Employee & Community Health

Toys, games: Reduce risks, amp up the fun

11/21/2016 by Dr. Maria Valdes


In 2014 there were approximately 250,000 toy-related injuries that required evaluation and treatment in U.S. emergency rooms. Half of the injuries were cuts, bruises and scrapes, and half were injuries to the head and face. 

Here's how you can lessen the risks for injuries when buying or making toys this holiday season. 

Check the W.A.T.C.H. list. The World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.) draws up an annual list of dangerous toys. Lead or other toxic materials can be found in toys, so be aware of any recalls. Toy recalls can be found on the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission and www.Recalls.gov websites. 

Inspect toys carefully before buying. Don't forget to inspect toys given to your child. Toys should be sturdy and unbreakable. Avoid ones 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. Look for toys with labels indicating they meet the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ATSM). 

Look for crayons and markers labeled "nontoxic."

Choose toys appropriate for a child's age and stage of development. Read toy labels for appropriate age recommendations. Toys that appeal to different senses and that can be played with in a variety of positions may be best for children with special needs. Cell phones and tablets are not appropriate gifts for babies. 

Be wary of small toys or parts. Marbles, coins, balls, game markers and other 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. Magnets and button batteries can cause significant injury or death. Children under eight years old should not be allowed to play with uninflated or broken balloons that can become choking hazards. Toys with strings longer than seven inches can be a risk for strangulation. 

Zip, cover and scoot to reduce trampoline injuries.

  • Zip up the protective net around the trampoline
  • Cover springs, hooks, frame and landing areas with shock-absorbing pads
  • Scoot the trampoline away from hazards, such as fences, trees, patios, backyard play equipment

Give electronic toys only to older children. Even the safest toy can cause injury if not played with or handled correctly. Be sure to show your children how their toys work and then supervise them when playing.

Inspect hand-me-down toys. Check them for safety and any toxic material. Broken toys should be repaired, if possible, 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, pads and protective eyewear for toys including bikes, skateboards, scooters, skis and skates. Riding toys/trucks/cars should have safety belts.

May the Force be with you – safely. Any laser toys should state compliance with 21 CFR (the Code of Federal Regulations) Subchapter J.

May all the toys you give and your children receive be safe toys that will bring happiness, joy and wonderful memories for years to come.

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.