Play is essential to a child’s development, but poorly
designed or improperly used toys can cause injury or even death. By following
some basic guidelines, parents can better ensure that playtime is fun,
educational, and safe.
Select toys which are age and development appropriate. For
example; while play-dough may be an engaging and enjoyable toy for a
three-year-old, it is a choking hazard for an infant. Similarly, a crib mobile
that is a delightful spectacle for a one-month old is a choking hazard for an
infant old enough to pull themselves up and reach it.
For infants and small children
Choking is the most frequent cause of toy-related deaths,
especially for children under three. Toys and their components that are meant
for children under the age of three should not be able to be passed through a
toilet paper tube. However, this test is not fail-safe: plug or nail-shaped
toys, or toys with spherical (round) elements, like small balls, may not be
able to pass through the tube, but could still become lodged in a young child’s
This is especially true for toys made of foam or other
Balloons pose a grave danger because children can choke or
suffocate on un-inflated or broken balloons. Do not buy balloons for children
less than eight years of age.
Toys that pose choking hazards are required to have warnings
printed on their packaging. Look for, and heed, these warnings. All toys should
bear a label indicating that they meet “ASTM F963.” This means that they comply
with various safety standards and labeling requirements. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) requires toys to meet these standards.
Neither infants nor toddlers should be given toys or
clothing with long strings, ropes or straps. They can easily entangle or even
strangle small children. Parents should also avoid giving young kids electric
toys, which may cause burns, or toys that have pointy or sharp edges. Young
children should not be given toys that are made with metal or glass.
Protect young children’s hearing by first testing
sound-making toys in the store to make sure they are not too loud.
If it is too loud for you, it is definitely too loud for a
child’s more sensitive ears. Make sure there is a way to turn the volume down,
or consider taking the batteries out altogether and using only “child-powered”
sound effects instead.
Children’s growing bodies are especially vulnerable to
chemical hazards. Special consideration should be given to choosing toys that
do not contain toxic substances that can hinder a child’s development.
Lead is one hazard to be mindful of. Toy manufacturers have
used lead to improve the color, luster and durability of their products, but
lead is extremely dangerous, even in small quantities. Exposure can result in
serious damage to a child’s central nervous system.
Federal standards for lead in children’s toys have become
more restrictive over the years, but some quantities of lead may still be found
in many children’s products, new and used. It is most likely to be found in
soft plastic toys, metal clothing components like zippers and buttons, painted
toys and children’s jewelry. Toys least likely to contain lead are those that
are made from unpainted and unvarnished wood or cloth and do not include
zippers or other metal pieces.
Although the thought that children’s toys may contain lead
is frightening, keep in mind that lead paint in older homes can pose an even
greater risk of lead exposure. Even if the toy is not made out of any
lead-based materials, toys can become covered with dust that contains lead or
other contaminates. Because children typically put their hands and toys in their
mouths, they can be exposed by swallowing a lot of dust. Therefore, it is
important to wipe toys with a damp cloth every so often to clear them of dust.
Phthalates are also chemicals of concern. A phthalate is a
type of industrial chemical that is added to many plastic consumer goods to
improve flexibility and resilience. Unfortunately, phthalates can leach into
the air, food and human bodies they come into contact with. These chemicals
build up in human bodies and have been associated with adverse reproductive and
respiratory-system health effects. Products manufactured after February of 2009
containing certain types of phthalates in concentrations of more than .01% per
phthalate are considered banned hazardous substances by the CPSC.
To minimize children’s exposure to phthalates, avoid
purchasing pliable plastic toys that were manufactured prior to February of
2009. Also, buy toys from manufacturers that have made commitments to reduce or
eliminate the use of phthalates and PVC in their products and packaging.
Only adults should change and charge batteries. Improper
installation or mixing different battery types can cause batteries to leak or
overheat, which can result in injury. Battery chargers and adapters can pose
thermal burn hazards to children. Battery-operated toys should never be taken
to bed, because burns or other injuries can be caused by a leaking battery.
There is little that babies love as much as pushing buttons.
They frequently seem to be more interested in whatever their caregiver is
fiddling with than they do their own toys. However, letting a child play with
battery-powered devices that are not meant to be toys, such as remote controls,
keyless-entry key fobs, video game controllers, calculators or cell phones, can
result in serious injury.
The battery compartments of non-toy devices are not designed
to be child-resistant. They may have pop-off doors that are easy to open or
fall open when dropped, allowing a child access to a battery. When a lithium
battery is swallowed, a chemical reaction that can scorch a child’s esophagus
Similarly, magnets present a serious risk to small children.
If two or more magnets are swallowed together, they can attract each other
across a child’s intestines and cause serious injury or death. Small children
should not be allowed to handle toys, jewelry or other household items that
If your child swallows a magnet, or a battery, call 911.
As babies gets older, mobility toys offer an opportunity to
develop gross motor skills. However, products such as baby walkers and ride-on
toys can be dangerous. Many babies have been injured in stair-fall injuries
associated with traditional baby walkers.
If you decide to purchase a baby walker, be sure that it
bears a label that reads “Meets New Safety Standard,” which means that it is
either too wide to fit through a standard doorway or that it has a feature that
will stop the walker at the edge of a step. Always actively supervise babies
and make sure that any nearby doorways or stairways are secured by gates. Do
not let babies use a walker near hot surfaces, dangling cords, toilets,
swimming pools or other sources of water.
Similarly, you should only allow children to use a ride-on
toy under careful adult supervision in safe areas that are far from stairs,
traffic, swimming pools, hills or other hazards. Children on wheeled toys can
move surprisingly fast.
Ride-on toys should be suitable to the child’s age, size and
abilities. Make sure that a ride-on toy will not tip over when in use. Before
you give a ride-on toy to a child, try placing weight on any riding point to
For older children
Older children should have ample opportunity to express
themselves using non-toxic arts and crafts supplies. Look for the label “ASTM
D4236,” which indicates that the product has been reviewed by a toxicologist
and labeled with cautionary information as needed.
Bicycles, scooters, skateboards and inline skates are great
toys for older children, provided that proper safety gear is used. Helmets save
lives. Do not let children use these toys without one. Knee pads, elbow pads
and wrist guards may also spare bruises and broken bones. If you give one of
these toys as a gift, be sure to include appropriate safety accessories.
Electric toys are for children at least 8 years of age. Be
sure to consider the individual child’s capabilities when deciding whether the
child is truly mature enough to operate an electric toy. Not every 8 year old
is ready to use such toys safely. Trains, miniature stoves, and sewing machines
can cause serious burns or shock if toys are old, damaged or misused. It is
especially important to supervise children using electric toys.
Avoid dart guns, sling shots and other toys capable of
firing small objects. They can cause blinding eye injuries. Select arrows or
darts with soft cork tips, rubber suction cups or other protective tips. Such
toys are only for older children.
Where to shop
Although buying new may make it easier to avoid purchasing
recalled items or items that do not meet current safety standards, garage
sales, thrift stores and internet swapping sites can offer some great deals.
When shopping for used toys and other children’s gear, it is important to make
sure you are not bringing anything that has been recalled into your home. The
same applies to hand-me-downs. Recalls.gov is a website where consumers can
search recalled items, sign up for email alerts and even download a mobile
phone application so that you can easily check for recalls when you are on the
It is now illegal to sell recalled items. However, that does
not mean it never happens. If you have purchased a recalled item, return it to
the seller for a refund.
It is a good idea to avoid purchasing toys made with soft
plastic that are meant for infants if you are not able to tell whether they
were manufactured after phthalate standards became more restrictive. It is also
best to avoid painted wood or metal toys, as well as children’s clothing and
jewelry with rhinestones, metal or vinyl snaps, zippers, closures or appliqués.
Standards for lead were raised gradually starting in 2008. Toys manufactured
most recently have a lower legal limit for lead content.
Be wary of purchasing “no-name” products from discount
stores or “fly-by-night” vendors, like street merchants and flea market
sellers. Toy-makers may be held legally liable for unsafe products, but only if
you are able to identify them.
Be cautious of extraordinary bargains. Some things are just
too good to be true. If a product is far less expensive than a comparable item
sold elsewhere, it may be counterfeit. Although they may look the same as the
authentic item, counterfeit toys are unlikely to meet the same safety
requirements and may therefore pose a danger to your child.
Saferproducts.gov is a website where consumers can report
and review reports of harm relating to the use of consumer products. It is a
good idea to look up any product you are considering purchasing first to see
whether users have raised any safety concerns and how businesses have
Wherever you decide to shop, be sure to look for quality in
the toys you purchase for children. Poorly constructed toys, or those made from
cheap materials, may not be durable enough to withstand normal use. Make sure
plush toys have tightly secured eyes, noses and other parts. Keep in mind that
children have a knack for being hard on their toys. When toys break, they can
have sharp edges that can cut a child, and may become choking hazards. Choose
toys that can be easily cleaned.
When bringing a toy home
Start by reading and following the instructions for assembly
and use of the toy. Many toy-related accidents are simply the result of
normally safe toys being used for the wrong purpose or in unsafe conditions.
Inspect the toy to make sure it is in safe condition. Once the toy is
assembled, explain or model the proper use of the toy for your child. Be sure
to stress the importance of keeping toys, especially plush ones, away from heat
sources. A toy could catch fire and burn your child.
Promptly discard all toy packaging. This packaging can be
very dangerous to a child. Besides plastic bags, which are a choking and
suffocation hazard, they can contain small, sharp parts, like staples and ties.
These are cutting hazards.
Hang onto warranty information and usage instructions. You
may need to know who to contact if you have a problem with the toy, and you might
not remember how to properly clean the toy if it becomes soiled in the future.
If the toy you have purchased came with a product
registration card, fill it out and mail it back before you forget. The company
will use this in the event it needs to notify you that the toy is being
Taking care of toys
Teach kids not to leave their toys on the floor. Toys can be
stepped on and easily broken. Make sure kids’ toys have a designated place to
be put away when they are not in use.
Toy boxes do not need lids, but if they have them, they
should not automatically lock when closed. Hinges should have a safety
mechanism to prevent the lid from slamming onto a child’s fingers. Any toy box
should be easy for a child to climb out of and have air holes in case of
entrapment. Children should never have access to air-tight bins or old storage
Enlist older children in sharing the responsibility of
keeping their toys and games out of reach of their younger siblings. This may
require that toys be kept in separate rooms.
Keep toys clean to minimize exposure to irritating allergens
and germs that can sicken your child. Avoid using cleaning products with harsh
chemical agents, especially on mouthed toys. Non-porous infant toys can usually
be put through the dishwasher on the top rack. If your child is allergic to
dust mites, you can keep them at bay by putting any plush toys into the freezer
for several hours each week. You may also be able to put plush toys in the
laundry machine, but be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s
Toys should be inspected periodically to ensure that they
are in good shape. Toys can become worn out. Wooden toys should not be
splintered, plastic toys should not be chipping and no metal pieces or screws
that could be swallowed should be exposed. Throw away toys that have bite marks
or cracked or peeling paint. Inspect electrical toys to ensure that wiring is
not exposed. If you are not able to get a toy clean, it is time to toss it.
Unsafe toys should be thrown away where children cannot find
them. Do not save them for rummage sales or pass them on to other children.
A periodic inspection is also good time to assess whether a
toy is still safe and appropriate for your child’s current developmental stage.
There is no substitute for careful supervision of children.
Not only can you keep your child safe by keeping a watchful eye on playtime
activities, but you will learn how your child likes to play and what his or her
capabilities are. You can apply this information in selecting appropriate toys
for your child’s stage of development. Keep in mind that product warning labels
refer to the minimum age at which a toy may be appropriate.
Not every child who reaches the referenced age will be
mature enough to safely use the toy yet.
Finally, have fun
Playtime is your child’s opportunity to experiment, explore
and experience the world. With a little thought and some safety precautions,
both parents and children can have a great – and safe – playtime.