Choosing a gift for a stepchild is always difficult. You don’t want to appear to want to ‘buy’ their affection, but you don’t want to hold back in case you look like you’re penny-pinching (or, worse, that you don’t like them.) Christmas and birthdays are a nightmare for any parent, let alone a step-parent, so this handy guide will make sure that whatever the occasion, any gift you come bearing will be gratefully (and graciously) received.

Make sure you don’t overstep the mark. Yes, they might have dropped the occasional hint about owning an entire box set of something semi-suitable, or heading to Vegas for a no-expenses-spared weekend, but it’s not your job to spoil them. If they choose to confide in you that they’re after an expensive gift, such as a laptop, you’re better off telling your partner, who can then discuss it with them. Resist the urge to play ‘Good Cop’ and splash the cash – they won’t respect you for it in the long run, and you’ll be expected to always produce lavish gifts.

A good gift is always something that they’ll use every day, as opposed to something frivolous that’ll be loved fiercely for the day and then sit on their bedroom floor forevermore. If you’re buying for girls, we recommend sports and school-friendly items such as Gola bags, clothes that they’ll be able to wear every day (coats/scarves/hats), vouchers for their favourite shops or restaurants, a DVD they’ve had their eye on or a sports massage/facial session. Avoid designer labels, anything that you know will attract the attention of thieves or anything that you know will stir up trouble amongst other siblings.

Talking of other siblings, even if you do have a favourite, make sure you buy for all your stepchildren equally. If you single one out, you’re inadvertently punishing them as the others will start resenting them for receiving nicer gifts. The same goes for any difficult stepchildren – resist the temptation to scrimp on their presents. Children are much cleverer than we give them credit for, and will play up even more if they see a legitimate reason to push your buttons.

If you’re planning a special activity with your stepchild that you think your partner’s ex would have a problem with, make sure you talk to them first. Most parents would be delighted that their child’s new step-parent is taking them out, but it’s always best to check. You don’t want your stepchild thinking you’re trying to take one parent’s place, and you don’t want the other parent resenting you for ‘taking over’. Honesty is the best policy – and it’s always best to be friendly towards other parents, for the good of your stepchild and for your own sake.

Remember that if money’s tight, it’s up to your partner to explain to disappointed faces why they haven’t received an entire toystore/one-bedroom apartment/pony. It’s your business, and your business alone, how much money you make – your partner’s children have no right to know anything about your finances, and you shouldn’t have to explain yourself. This is one of those difficult times when it’s best to let your partner do the talking – your job, as a stepparent, is to care for, be responsible for and be kind to your partner’s kids. Just slip away and pour a large glass of wine – and ignore the shouting coming from the front room…

Vicky Anscombe is a UK-based social media consultant, mystery shopper and cat owner. She would like to point out that both of her stepparents are awesome and have behaved impeccably throughout the years.