Doctors’ toy safety tips for the holidays from Seattle Children’s On the Pulse blog
With an abundance of toys to choose from this holiday season, many parents may find themselves asking which toys are best for their young kids.
Pediatricians encourage parents – and anyone buying a gift for a baby or child – to think safety first.
Tony Woodward, MD, MBA, medical director of the division of emergency medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, says parents should read toy labels, remove possible hazards, and expect the unexpected when it comes to kids and toys.
“Parents should remember that children don’t perceive toys the same way we do and often don’t use them as we might expect,” says Woodward. “If a toy can be misused, chewed on, eaten, swallowed or thrown at someone, it will be. Parents should ensure that if those things do happen, the child won’t be injured.”
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there were more than 262,000 toy-related emergency room visits in the United States in 2011.
Woodward suggests parents keep these tips in mind when choosing toys for small kids:
Choking is the leading cause of toy-related deaths, according to the CPSC. In 2011, there were 13 reported toy-related deaths among children younger than 15 years in the United States, most from asphyxiation.
When choosing toys for small children, bigger is usually better:
- Stay away from toys that contain many or small parts if there are small children in the household.
- Be sure to read warning labels for age recommendations. Toys are age-graded to reflect safety risks, including choking hazards. A toy that may be appropriate for an older child can be potentially life-threatening for a baby or toddler.
- Small balls are also particularly dangerous because they can block a child’s airway completely. “Water Balz,” for example, recalled earlier this week, absorb water and expand to 400 times their original size.
Woodward suggests this rule of thumb to help prevent choking: If a toy can fit inside a paper towel roll, the toy can obstruct the airway of a small child and prevent breathing.
Toys that contain small magnets are especially dangerous for young kids. If swallowed, magnets can attract to one another in a child’s intestine and cause serious complications. Woodward says parents should look out for products like “Snake Eggs,” small magnets shaped like eggs that are marketed to children.
Many toys and gadgets require button batteries, which can pose fatal risks for young kids. If a battery is swallowed, it can cause life-threatening injuries. Be sure batteries cannot be removed easily from toys.
Some toys have strings or cords that can become wrapped around a child’s neck and cause strangulation. Use caution with mobiles or pull toys with long string, and remove long ribbons from kids’ play areas.
Toys containing lead and other chemicals
Just like checking a food’s ingredient list, parents should read toy labels. Avoid products that contain PVC plastic, xylene, toluene, or dibutyl phthalate. Play cosmetics can be particularly hazardous.
Avoid toys and clothes that could contain lead paint or high levels of lead, such as vinyl lunch boxes or rain gear. To test products for lead, parents can purchase home testing kits, available at most local hardware shops. Buy paints, crayons and markers that say “non-toxic” on the label.
More toy safety tips
- Include safety equipment with toys such as bikes, snowboards or skateboards. Helmets, elbow pads and knee pads make great stocking stuffers.
- Avoid stuffed animals with buttons or removable parts.
- Be cautious of toys that make loud noises. Toys that omit noise above 85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss.
- Consider the physical skills a child needs to play with a particular toy, and how well the child can understand how to use the toy.
Before wrapping presents this year, Woodward suggests parents review this checklist to help keep their kids safe: “Potential choking hazards should be removed, batteries and magnets should be inaccessible, toys that are sharp or can be used as weapons or projectiles should be removed and easily broken toys should be discarded.”
Toy safety resources:
- Seattle Children’s Hospital toy safety tips