Did you know December is National Safe Toys and Gifts Month. With Christmas on the horizon, it’s a great time to review what makes a toy safe – or not.
If you’re a parent, grandparent, or caregiver to a young child, we hope you’ll take the time to review this important information before shopping for your little one – and pass it along to those who will be buying toys for kids this season.
Toy-related injuries are a serious problem. Researchers found more than 3.2 million American children were treated in hospitals for toy-related injuries between 1990 and 2011 – that’s roughly 149,000 per year.
While many new parents go to great lengths to childproof their homes, less attention is paid to child-proofing the toy box!
Ensure the children in your life don’t become part of the statistic by following these guidelines, at minimum. If in doubt, speak with a pediatrician or child-safety expert in your area, as these are just a few basic guidelines to get your started, rather than a comprehensive list.
11 Tips To Make Sure a Christmas Toy is Safe for Your Kids
#1 – Avoid Nasty Plastics and Choose Safer Alternatives
Generally speaking, look for toys that are free from nasty chemicals like phthalates, BPA and BPS, and their alternatives.
Natural rubber is a great choice, especially for toys that get wet, such as those used during bathtime. Unpainted wood is also a great alternative to plastic.
If you choose to buy plastic, do so once your kid is out of the “puts everything in their mouth” stage to minimize the chance that they’ll be chewing on something unsafe, and choose safer plastics marked with recycling codes 1, 2, 4, and 5 – generally considered to be the “safest plastics.” Likewise, avoid plastics labelled 3, 6, and 7.
#2 – Choose Non-Toxic Art Supplies
Paint, markers, and crayons always end up on your kiddo’s skin, and sometimes even end up in their mouth. And they can be filled with some pretty gross ingredients.
When it comes to crayons, markers, paints, and other art supplies, only give products that are specifically labelled non-toxic.
#3 – Avoid Toys that Post a Strangulation Risk
If a toy contains a cord or string, make sure it’s less than 7 inches long. According to SeattleChildrens, that’s the length at which it can more easily get wrapped around a child’s neck.
Ideally, we recommend avoiding toys that contain ropes, strings, straps, and cords entirely.
#4 – Inspect Battery-Operated Toys
Don’t allow young children to use toys with “button” batteries. If a button battery is swallowed, it can burn through the oesophagus in just two hours, and cause internal burns, severe bleeding or death.
For toys with normal batteries, ensure the battery enclosure is secure, so a child couldn’t access it.
#5 – Use the “Toilet Paper Roll” Test
If you’re unsure whether a toy is a choking hazard for a young child, try sticking it into a toilet paper roll. If it slides in, it’s too small and poses a choking hazard for under-threes. Small parts can easily detach and become choking hazards.
#6 – Check for Age Appropriateness
Toys sold in the US are labelled for their appropriate age group, and it’s important to bear in mind age appropriateness of all toys.
This becomes especially important where older siblings are present in the household – you need to keep toys meant for older kids away from your younger kids. Be vigilant, and ensure baby toys are kept separate from big kid toys.
#7 – Be Lead Aware
Lead can have devastating effects on children, so it’s important to be particularly aware of any toys or gifts that may contain this heavy metal.
Don’t give children metal jewellery, as it’s more likely than some other items to contain lead.
While the US, Europe, Canada and other countries have strict regulations about lead in children’s toys, some countries do not. We recommend avoiding painted toys (including wooden toys) manufactured outside of the USA, Canada, Australia/New Zealand, and Europe.
Even companies that are considered reputable (but manufacture overseas) have had problems with lead contamination in the past, so your best bet is to buy painted toys made in countries with strict controls.
Older toys are more likely than newer toys to contain lead, so consider this before giving second-hand or garage-sale finds.
#8 – Know your Acronyms
Look for safety labels, such as The American Society for Testing and Materials Standards (ATSM), so you know toys have met certain safety standards.
In the US, the CPSC (The Consumer Product Safety Commission) governs mandatory safety standards for all toys manufactured for use by a child under 12. You can get a copy of the toy safety standards here: https://www.astm.org/Standards/F963.htm.
Since 2018, all children’s toys manufactured or imported on or after February 28, 2018 must be tested and certified ATSM approved. Another reason to buy new, rather than used, toys.
#9 – Manually Inspect the Toy
As a parent, you should inspect toys your child has received before allowing your kids to play with them.
Use the so-called SAD acronym to be sure each toy is: Skill-level appropriate, Age-appropriate, and Developmentally-appropriate.
Don’t let your child play with a toy if it has been damaged or modified.
#10 – Just Say No (to Balloons)
Don’t give balloons as part of a gift. Balloons aren’t safe for young children and are a serious choking hazard.
Balloons have the ability to conform to the shape of your child’s airway, making them dangerous gifts.
#11 – Give The Gift of Safety
If you buy a toy for a child that should be used with safety equipment such as a helmet, give the safety equipment as part of the gift. For example, if you give a scooter, also give a helmet and knee/wrist guards.
Between 1990 and 2001, ride-on toys accounted for 34.9% of toy-related injuries and 42.5% of hospital admissions among US children.
The last thing you want is for a Christmas gift to become a cause of pain for a child.
Christmas should be a time of wonder and joy for kids, and as parents, it’s our job to make sure it stays that way. Learn how to identify safe and unsafe toys to protect your kids this Christmas.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article. If it resonates with you in any way, please share, and send it along to anyone you know who will be buying toys for kids this Christmas!
Co-Founder of GreenActiveFamily.com, Geoff manages the behind-the-scenes aspects of the website, ensuring everything runs the way it needs to! He also tests out products with his kids, and strives to keep the family healthy and active with his passion for all things outdoors and active.