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The Joys of Safe Holiday Toys


Beverly Clarke, RNC, MS


With the holiday season upon us our thoughts turn toward gift giving. When selecting a gift for a child it is important to consider toy safety. 

The Toy Manufacturers Association of America estimates that consumers buy more than 1.7 billion toys each year. Most toys on the market are safe when used appropriately but those that are recalled are done so only after parents report injuries to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. According to this organization almost two dozen children suffered toy-related deaths and 150,000 children were treated at emergency departments for toy related injuries in 1995.

Before giving a gift to a child consider the toy’s age appropriateness. The best advice is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations printed on most toys’ packaging. The age recommendation reflects the appropriateness of a toy based on four categories: physical ability of the child to play with it, mental ability of the child to know how to use it, the development needs and interest of the age group and safety aspects of the toy.

The stated age ranges are generous so be sure to match the toy to the child’s skills. Choosing a toy or game that is too advanced can cause a child to experience defeat, which can cause feelings of anger and lower self-esteem. When selecting a toy, look for sturdy construction and non-toxic paints and markers. Make sure the child cannot remove batteries from toys that require them. To decrease eye and ear injuries, avoid toys that shoot small objects or make loud noises. Crib toys should not include any strings or wires that are longer that twelve inches and crib mobiles should be removed as soon as a child can push up on his or her hands and knees. Chemicals in science sets can burn, poison or explode.

Parents should always read instructions and warning labels before a child plays with a new toy. Warning labels do not mean that a toy is unsafe; they let parents know the child may need help understanding the directions and may remind parents that the toy contains small parts or other potentially dangerous parts. Cautionary information is provided on electrical toys, science and craft toys, swimming aids that are not intended as life-saving devices, balloons, crib gyms and mobiles, and any toys that require assembly. Injuries may happen despite your best efforts to choose the safest toy for a child. Supervision is the best way to ensure that injuries are prevented. When a toy is not in use it should not be stored in its original packaging because staples can cause cuts and plastic wrap could lead to suffocation. Toy chest should have smooth, finished edges and a strong lid as well as safe hinges that allow it to stay open. The toy chest should also have ventilation holes to prevent suffocation; the best toy chest is one without a lid.

Parents should examine toys on a regular basis, looking for damaged or broken parts, such as splinters, loose parts or exposed wires, or rust or peeling paint on mental toys. Teaching children to put away their toys will help them learn to become responsible.

Toys are one of the treasures of childhood. By using these simple guidelines to select toys that are safe and appropriate we can make sure the children in our lives experience hours of pleasure with the gifts we give.

Beverly Clarke, RNC, MS is a licensed nurse practitioner.