Safety First: Could Your Child’s Toys Be Dangerous?

An average of 450 children require medical treatment every day for injuries related to toys. Almost half of these injuries are due to choking. Children ages four and under are at the greatest risk for toy-related injury.

While toy safety standards have been improved in recent years, we can’t assume that all toys are safe. Parents and caregivers should carefully consider each toy before giving it to children.

Tips for Choosing Toys

  • Choose age-appropriate toys. The manufacturer’s guidelines on the box are just that—guidelines. Think about your child’s stage of development and behavioral characteristics when choosing toys. Even if you think your child is “smart enough” to use the toy, the age guidelines may be related to safety for that age group.
  • Choose durable toys. 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 have caused serious and sometimes permanent throat injuries in children who have swallowed them.
  • Be especially cautious of home-made toys or toys purchased at craft shows. These toys have not been tested for safety. Be sure that the materials used, such as paint, are non-toxic.
  • Strings or straps on toys should be less than seven inches in length to avoid a strangulation hazard.
  • Be aware of the noise level of toys. Some toys are loud enough to damage a child’s hearing. Choose sound toys with a volume control 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. The lid should have a locking mechanism that holds it open to prevent it from falling on the child’s head or fingers. Hinges should be “pinch-proof.” A better alternative to a toy box would be a sturdy low shelf that is anchored to the wall. It has the added advantage of allowing the child to see the toys, rather than having to dig for them.
  • Balloons are considered to be one of the most dangerous toys on the market. They pose a safety hazard when young children suck on un-inflated balloons or find pieces of broken balloons and put them in their mouths. Keep balloons away from young children and supervise older children during use.
  • Always discard toy packaging immediately. The plastic packaging is a suffocation hazard, and the small ties that hold the toy in the box can cause choking.
  • Find a website that will alert you to toy recalls. One option is www.cpsc.gov. You can sign up for email alerts. You will receive information on the reason for the recall and how to get repair or refund information. Subscribe to the “Recall RSS.”
  • Be very cautious with toys containing magnets. A very powerful type of magnet was developed in 1982 for industrial use. These magnets have found their way into the toy world. A number of magnetic toys have been recalled because they contain small parts with magnets inside. These small pieces can be swallowed by children. When in the stomach or intestines, these powerful magnets can attract each other, pinching pieces of tissue and causing serious, and sometimes fatal, health problems. If you purchase toys containing magnets, be sure the pieces are too large to be swallowed.  The magnets should be completely enclosed within the toy. Watch for cracks in the toy that could expose the magnets. If cracks occur, throw the toy away immediately. The toy should not have small pieces containing magnets that could be swallowed. Watch out for old toys or “hand-me-down” toys with small parts that contain magnets. Also beware of “adult toys” or “desk top toys” that have powerful magnetic beads.  These have been linked to severe injury and death in children who swallowed them.

Let’s look at some specific things to keep in mind for different age groups.

Infants

The biggest concern for infant toys is choking. Be sure toys do not have small pieces that could break off. Check toys often for broken parts. Invest in a small parts tester. These tube-like devices are available at most toy stores or in the safety product section of department stores. Check your baby’s toys for rough or sharp edges. Keep your older child’s toys separate from your baby’s toys.

Toddlers

Toddlers are very active and they like to throw things! 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 catch or pinch little fingers.

Preschoolers

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. Decide what your family views are on “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—markers, crayons, paint—should be non-toxic and approved for use by children. Look for certification seals on the package from Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI-AP) or American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

Older Children

Provide areas for older children to use when they play with toys that are not appropriate for younger siblings. When your child receives a new toy, read the instructions together and discuss rules for safe use. Set clear rules and guidelines if you allow your child to play with “weapon” toys. Know the difference between toys and sports equipment. For instance, lawn darts are not toys and should not be sold in a toy department. Many types of sports equipment require the use of protective gear.

Toys and play equipment provide invaluable learning experiences for children. With proper selection, care, and supervision, adults can give children safe play experiences.

By Betty and Doniese

Family Life Instructors at Avera McKennan

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