Each year, thousands of children are injured by the very things that are supposed to bring them enjoyment: their toys. In recent years, there has also been growing concern about the safety of children's' toys. Such concern increases whenever there is an announcement of a toy recall. It may not be possible for parents to test toys for the presence of dangerous chemicals or parts. But there are many things you can do to reduce your child's risk of playing with dangerous toys. It's essential that parents and grandparents (and anyone else purchasing a toy for a child) keep safety in mind.
Start by making sure all toys are age-appropriate. Look for labels on the toy package that give age recommendations and use that information as a guide. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends you take particular care with toys for children under the age of three. The parts should be bigger the 1-1/4 inches in diameter and more then 2-1/4 inches long. Any smaller is a severe choking hazard. Here are some other suggestions:
- When purchasing crib toys, the American Academy of Pediatrics says to avoid any small parts that could pose a fatal choking hazard to infants. Avoid any strings or cords that could get wrapped around an infant and cause injury. Crib mobiles should be removed as soon as the baby begins to push up to prevent entanglement.
- For preschoolers, continue to avoid toys with small parts. This is a particular danger for children under the age of three. Even if the smaller parts are directly attached to the toy, if they can be broken off, bitten off or pulled off, they can still pose a danger. Avoid toys that have sharp edges and points.
- The Toy Manufacturers of America advises against electrical toys or toys with heating elements before the age of 8. Make sure any electrical toys for older children, such as train sets, are kept out of younger siblings' way.
- Never let children of any age play with uninflated or broken balloons because of the choking danger.
- The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says to look for household art materials, including crayons and paint sets, marked with the designation "ASTM D-4236." This means the product has been reviewed by a toxicologist and, if necessary, labeled with cautionary information.
- For school-aged children, adults should supervise when children are playing with electrical toys or with science sets that may contain toxic chemicals, sharp objects or breakable glass. Check to see that any electrical toys have the "UL (Underwriters Laboratories) Approved" seal.
- CPSC says if buying a toy gun be sure the barrel, or the entire gun, is brightly colored so that it's not mistaken for a real gun.
- Make sure children have the appropriate protective gear for any sports activities they engage in. Check protective gear for proper fit; as children grow, adjust the fit or purchase new safety gear as needed. Make sure children understand safety guidelines when playing with toys that have projectile elements.
- In homes where there are children of several different ages, make sure toys are put away securely after use so that babies and younger children can't get access to older siblings' toys. Remember, toys that can be thrown or hit, such as darts or projectile toys, can be a big danger, especially to young children.
Sturdy construction is especially important because children tend to play hard with their toys. Younger children are especially curious and like taking things apart, so inspect all toys on a regular basis before letting children play with them. If a toy is broken, repair it immediately or get rid of it.
If giving a gift-wrapped toy to a child, watch out for small decorations, plastic wrappings, balloons (especially once they become deflated) or ribbons that could pose a choking hazard to infants or very young children. Discard packaging or plastic wrapping before handing a toy to an infant or young child.
Never buy a bicycle, skates, or other sporting equipment for someone without giving them a helmet and other sport-specific protective equipment, such as knee or wrist guards. Make sure children receiving such gifts understand the importance of using safety equipment at all times. Ultimately, by giving children the gift of health and safety, you'll be giving them the best gift of all.
Lead in toys
One issue that concerns many parents is the potential presence of lead in toys. Unfortunately, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says there is really no reliable way for a consumer to test a toy for the presence of lead. CPSC says the sensitivity of testing kits available to consumers varies, with many false positives as well as false negatives.
CPSC suggests paying attention to news reports and monitoring government websites for updated information on product recalls. If you have purchased any toys that have been recalled, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says the products should be removed and returned according to the recall directions.
AAP also indicates that the largest source of lead in children is not toys, but paint, and urges precautions in this area.