Are all the toys on your child’s Christmas wish list safe? Probably not! According to new research at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, a child is treated for toy-related injuries in emergency departments every three minutes—and the number of those injuries increased by 40% between 1990 and 2011.
To help prevent your child from becoming a scary statistic, we compiled a list of tips to help you make sure that everything your child unwraps this Christmas is kid-friendly.
1. Buy Age & Skill-Appropriate Toys
Young children aren’t too fussy when it comes to choosing a new toy—but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be. Look on the box of many toys and you’ll likely see an age recommendation that’s there for safety reasons.
Age warning symbol. Image: wikipedia.org
Stick to the suggested ages, and keep in mind each child develops at his or her own pace. In other words, if your little one is still sticking everything in his or her mouth, know to stay away from toys with small pieces regardless of the suggested age range.
If you’d like to double check that a toy is within the appropriate age range for you child or need some last-minute inspiration, She Knows published an age-by-age guide to buying toys that’s chock-full of stimulation and entertainment.
Tip: Test whether a small toy could pose a choking hazard for children under the age of three by using the cardboard center of a paper towel holder. To do so, hold it vertically and drop the toy into the holder. If the toy slides down through the holder, it is likely to be a choking hazard for a child under three.
2. Avoid Magnets
Small magnets can fascinate small children, but they can also cause serious intestinal damage when ingested, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
How serious? When swallowed, the magnets, or a magnet and another metal object, can become stuck to each other—even through folds of intestine or tissue. This can pinch off blood supply to the area, causing tissue death, bleeding, and infection.
And, it’s not only your little one’s toys you should be watching out for: The most common magnets for children to swallow are those marketed for adults. Think the small, high-powered magnet sets that are sold as sculptures, stress relievers, and as desk toys to help with office boredom.
Magnetic Desk Toy. Image: gifttree.com
Should you unwrap a gift made of magnets Christmas morning, be sure to immediately place the item out of a child’s reach. If your child does swallow a magnet, immediately take them to an emergency medical center for removal.
3. Be Careful With Toys That Shoot
Common eye injuries caused by mishaps with toys can range from a minor scratch to the front surface of the eye (called a corneal abrasion) to very serious, sight-threatening injuries such as corneal ulcers, traumatic cataracts, bleeding inside the eye and retinal detachment.
And it’s not just Red Ryders that parents have to worry about—eye injuries are common in the emergency department because of all sorts of toys that shoot darts or other projectiles. Here’s a quick list of what to avoid:
- Guns that shoot any type of projectile - This includes toy guns that shoot lightweight, cushy darts. You might think these soft projectiles would pose little or no risk, but toy guns of this type can shoot up to distances of 75 feet, and the darts move at speeds fast enough to cause a serious eye injury—especially when used at close range indoors. Examples: Nerf Vortex Nitron; Nerf Rebelle Sweet Revenge Dart Kit.
- Water balloon launchers and water guns - Water balloons can cause serious blunt trauma to the eye that can cause a retinal detachment and permanent vision loss. Even toy guns that shoot a stream of water can cause serious eye damage, especially when used at close range. Examples: SuperSoaker Scatter Blast Water Blaster; Nerf Super Soakers; Water Sports TL-500 Stream Machine; Water Blaster XLR Water Cannon.
- Games that include toy fishing poles - The end of a toy fishing pole or objects secured to the end of the fishing line can easily end up in a playmate's eye. Examples: Ertl John Deere Electronic Fishing Pole; Catch of the Day.
- Aerosol string - The chemicals in these products can cause eye irritation and a type of pink eye called chemical conjunctivitis. When used at close range, aerosol string also can cause a corneal abrasion that could lead to serious eye infections. Examples: Silly String; Streamer String; Turbo Spackle String Blaster.
- Laser pointers and bright flashlights - Though technically not toys for children, there’s a chance your family’s four-legged friend might get a laser pointer in their stocking stuffer. If so, be sure to keep them out of your child’s reach! Portable laser pointers, like those used for business presentations, should never be used by children, as the light intensity of these devices is sufficient to cause permanent vision loss. Even high-powered LED flashlights can be dangerous, because they can cause temporary blindness, putting children at risk of a fall or other accident.
4. If You’re Giving Wheels, Don’t Forget Safety Gear
According to Time Magazine, scooters and other ride-on toys were deemed the most dangerous of the bunch in the recent Center for Injury Research study.
The solution? Invest in a helmet! In a statement to USA Today, the president of child-safety advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide says parents can help keep kids safe by buying protective gear like helmets and knee pads with scooters and bikes.
5. Buy Toys Made in the USA
According to WebMD, many products from any countries outside the U.S. and Europe have tested for high levels of lead. The Telegraph, a UK-based publication, reports that 30% of Chinese toys test positive for heavy metals. This includes ceramic pottery, such as a tea set that was made in Mexico or China, soft vinyl toys, and children’s jewelry.
Brightly painted toys (wood, plastic, and metal) made in Pacific Rim countries, particularly China, should be avoided because of lead paint dangers. Parents may even want to shun brightly colored plastic toys made from molds, which have been a problem in previous years. Children mouthing the toys for extended periods can get lead poisoning, which can cause irreversible neurological damage.
You can find a list of companies that report selling American-made toys and products at Toys Made in America. This site provides 136 links to toy companies, many of which are small, family-owned businesses. Some are eco-friendly as well.
For a self-reported list of products made in Europe, visit Moolka or Maukilo, two online retailers that boast an extensive selection of European-made products for children of all ages, including a variety of jewelry.
6. Watch Out For Storage Containers
It's not only the toys themselves, but sometimes the containers that hold them, that can also pose serious injury risks.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, toy chests with lids can close on little heads or necks, and can cause suffocation if children get trapped inside. Also, avoid storing Santa's loot in an old-fashioned toy chest with a heavy lid, lest children become tempted to take an unsupervised sneak peek.
7. Keep Little Siblings In Mind
A toy that may be a perfect fit for a five-year-old could pose a choking risk for a two-year-old. Remember that siblings share (or fight over) toys, so teach the big kids how to store their toys safely and keep unsafe ones away from smaller children.
What Can You Do If Your Child Wants A Harmful Toy
If you notice that a gift given by a well-meaning loved one doesn’t meet the above qualifications? Family psychologist John Rosemond tells WebMD that parents should simply tell kids the truth—that the toy they want can hurt them.
While checking every age recommendation and warning label can be tricky in the chaos of Christmas warning, it’s much more manageable than a trip to the emergency room!
Finally, to stay alert to lead dangers and toy recalls, parents should sign up for email alerts from CPSC. For additional safety tips and consumer safety advice, as well as current information about recalled toys, consumers can call the TIA's toll-free hotline or visit their website at www.toyinfo.org.