Remember Safety When Choosing Toys
Christmas is a time when we get to bring some joy to the children in our lives. Sitting by the tree watching my kids open their gifts brings me a lot of joy, too. With the fun of picking out a new toy for the children in my life there also comes a lot of responsibility. Toy safety is an important thing to consider when choosing gifts for children.
An average 477 kids require medical treatment every day due to injuries related to toys. Almost half of those were children age 5 and under. While toy safety standards have improved, we can’t assume that all toys sold are safe. These tips can help, but if you have any doubts, always talk with your child's health care provider.
Tips for Choosing Toys
- Consider age and maturity. Manufacturers’ guidelines are just that – guidelines. Think about your child’s stage of development and behavioral characteristics. Even if you feel that your child is smart enough for the toy, the age guidelines may be related to the safety for that age group.
- Look for durability. Toys made of cheap plastic are more likely to come apart and cause a safety hazard.
- If the toy requires batteries, be sure they are in a compartment that is secured with tight, counter-sunk screws. Be especially careful with toys containing lithium “button” batteries. These batteries can cause serious injuries if children swallow them.
- Be especially cautious of homemade toys or toys purchased at craft shows. These toys have not been tested for safety. Be sure that the materials used are non-toxic.
- Strings or straps on toys should be less than 7 inches in length to avoid strangulation hazard. Also check for small parts or pieces that can pose a choking hazard for younger children.
- Be aware of the noise level. Some toys are loud enough to damage a child’s hearings. Choose toys with a volume control and/or an on/off switch.
- Toy boxes should have lightweight lids that are easily opened from the inside to prevent entrapment. For added safety, there should be ventilation holes in the box. Hinges should be “pinch-proof.” A better alternative to a toy box would be a sturdy low shelf that is anchored to the wall.
- Balloons are considered to be one of the most dangerous toys on the market. They pose a safety hazard when young children suck on an uninflated balloons or find pieces of broken balloons and put them in their mouths. Always supervise any type of balloon play.
- If you are purchasing new ride on toys such as scooters, bicycles or roller skates make sure that you also have a helmet that fits your child well.
- Find a website that will alert you to toy recalls such as Safekids.org or the Consumer Product Safety Commission's site. You can sign up for email alerts at both of these websites.
Consider Your Child’s Development and Age
The biggest concern for infant toys is choking. Make sure toys are at least 1¼ inches (3 centimeters) in diameter and 2¼ inches (6 centimeters) in length. Keep toys like marbles, coins or small balls away from infants. Check your baby’s toys for rough or sharp edges.
Toddlers are very active and like to throw things. Consider your child’s development and temperament when purchasing toys for this age. Toys should be able to hold the child’s weight and should be shatter-proof. Supervise your toddler when using ride-on toys, especially outside. Keep these toys away from stairs and drop-offs. Avoid toys with small openings that could pinch little fingers.
Toys with strong magnets can also pose certain risks.
Read Instructions Together with Older Children's Toys
Preschool children are sometimes ready for more complicated toys. Avoid toys that shoot projectiles. If you choose to use them, they should be made of very soft material and the ends or tips should be securely attached. Any toy requiring electricity should have the Underwriters Approval on the cord and should be supervised by an adult.
You should also decide how your family views “weapon” toys. If you decide to allow them, teach children not to point them at people or use them to hurt people. All art materials should be non-toxic and approved for use by children.
When your school-age child receives new toys, read the instructions together and discuss rules for safe use. Make sure they understand the importance of protective gear such as knee pads and helmets when using bikes, roller blades and scooters.
Have a safe and happy holiday season!
By Patricia Bates, Family Life Educator, Women’s and Children’s Community Outreach Education, Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center