Employee & Community Health

'Tis the season for toys!

11/20/2017 by Dr. Maria Valdes

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December is Safe Toys and Gifts month, but toy safety should be a priority year round. In 2015, an estimated 254,000 toy-related injuries were treated in U.S. emergency rooms. Of those, nearly 75% affected children younger than 15, while 35% happened to kids younger than five. 

Each year, W.A.T.C.H. (World Against Toys Causing Harm) publishes a list of dangerous toys. They also have a list of "WATCH OUT fors", such as toys: 

  • Sold on the Internet without warnings or instructions
  • With fur or hair that can be inhaled
  • With smaller, movable attachments
  • That can be thrown or launched (projectiles)
  • Made of flammable or toxic materials

These are some of the risks to keep in mind when choosing toys for your child or as a gift: 

  • Fidget spinners are not appropriate for kids under age three. They should never be used near the face. Children as old as 14 have choked on the smaller pieces. Light-up fidget spinners have button batteries that can cause significant burns if swallowed. Recent reports have raised concerns about high levels of lead in some of these toys. 
  • Projectile toys can cause eye injuries, including blindness, while loud toys can damage hearing.
  • Kids can choke on small objects, such as marbles, coins and loose toy parts. To test if a toy is to small for a young child, use a small-parts tester or toilet paper roll. If it fits inside the tester or the roll, it could be a choking risk. Children also can choke on uninflated or broken balloons. 
  • If swallowed, magnets and "button" batteries can cause significant injury or death. 
  • Toys with strings longer than seven inches can possibly strangle kids. 
  • Toy packaging may be fun to play with, but it also poses a danger for choking or suffocation. All packaging and plastic coverings should be removed before your child plays with a toy. 

You can find up-to-date toy recalls on the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission or www.recalls.gov websites. 

Before buying a toy, read the label to check that it's appropriate for your child's age and stage of development. Toys should have labels indicating they meet the standards of The American Society for Testing and Materials (ATSM). Here are some tips for making sure play is both fun and safe: 

  • Always inspect new toys your child receives. Examine toys regularly to make sure they aren't broken or have become unsafe. 
  • Hand-me-down toys shouldn't have broken parts or be made of or painted with toxic materials. 
  • Toys should be sturdy, unbreakable and have no sharp edges. 
  • Stuffed toys should be well made with secure stitching using fabrics that are flame resistant or retardant. 
  • Art materials, such as crayons and markers, should be labeled nontoxic. 
  • Electronic toys should be given only to older children. 
  • Helmets, pads and protective eye goggles should be included with gifts of bicycles, skateboards, scooters, skis and skates. Riding toys, such as trucks and cars, should have safety belts. 
  • Teach your child how their toys work and supervise them while playing. They also should learn to put them away appropriately to keep them safe and clean. Store outdoor toys - when not in use - where they won't be exposed to weather. 

May all the toys and games you give - and your children receive - be safe and bring years of enjoyment and fun!

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