Employee & Community Health

Deck the holiday halls with safe toys

11/25/2015 by Dr. Maria Valdes


Are those toys you're shopping for this holiday season safe for your tots? Maybe not. 

In a study of U.S. hospital emergency room visits from 1990-2011, approximately 3.2 million children - one every three minutes - were seen for toy-related injuries. In 2013, toy-related injuries sent 256,700 children to the ER. Forty-four percent of those injuries were to the face and head. Tragically, there also were nine deaths of children under 12 years. "Ride on toys," such as foot-powered scooters, caused the majority of injuries. 

But those risks can be diminished when buying or making toys. Before you shop, check out these tips for choosing safe toys that will give children hours of enjoyment: 

  • Check the W.A.T.C.H. list. World against Toys Causing Harm draws up an annual list of dangerous toys. Toy recalls also can be found at www.cpsc.gov
  • Inspect the toy carefully before buying. Toys should be sturdy and unbreakable. Avoid toys with sharp edges. Projectile toys can cause blindness, while loud toys can damage hearing. Stuffed toys should be well made with secure stitching. Fabrics should be flame-resistant or -retardant. 
  • Choose toys that are age- and developmentally appropriate. Toys that appeal to different senses and can be played with in a variety of positions may be best for children with special needs. 
  • Be wary of small toys or parts. Small toys including marbles, coins, balls and loose toy parts can cause choking. To test if a toy is too small for a young child, use a small-parts tester or a toilet paper roll. If it fits inside the tester or roll, it could be a choking risk. 
  • Watch for other choking risks. Toys with strings longer than seven inches can be strangulation risk, while broken or non-inflated balloons also can be a hazard. Magnets and button batteries can cause significant injury or death if swallowed. 
  • Give electronic toys only to older children. Be sure to show them how to use the toy safely, and then keep an eye on them while they're playing. 
  • Inspect hand-me-down toys. Check them for safety and any toxic material. Broken toys should be repaired or discarded. 
  • Toss the packaging. Sometimes children like playing with the packaging as much as the toy. But to avoid choking or other hazards, throw away all packaging and remove any plastic coverings before play begins. 
  • Don't forget the safety gear. Provide safety gear, such as helmets and pads, for toys including bikes, skateboards, scooters, skis and skates. Riding toys/trucks/cars should have safety belts. 

Even the safest toy can cause injury if not played with or handled correctly. Be sure to show kids how toys work and then supervise them when playing. 

Have a merry holiday season, and may all the safe toys you give bring happiness and joy. 

Dr. Maria Valdes is a consultant in Employee and Community Health's Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. She serves as a member of the AskMayoExpert Pediatric Knowledge Content Board.