In the holiday spirit of gift giving, it may be no surprise to find out that December is National Safe Toys and Gifts Awareness Month. Many of us purchase gifts for our friends and loved ones during the holidays, and may even be the ones helping Santa check off his gift giving list. As for me, one thing that always slows down my sleigh is not knowing what gifts to get for the little elves in my life. Children’s toy aisles and the many toys that fill them can be complex, expensive, and possibly unsafe. Although there are many toy options out there, there are a few ways to sift through those abundant toys to find the perfect and safe gift.
Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when shopping for toys:
- Stuffed toys should be labeled as washable; toys made of fabric should also be labeled as flame resistant or flame retardant.
- Painted toys should have lead-free paint.
- Art materials should say non-toxic; crayons and paints should say ASTM D-4236 on the package meaning that they have been tested and evaluated as safe. (ASTM stands for American Society for Testing and Materials)
- Electronic toys should be labeled UL meaning that they meet the safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratories.
- Top items that may be considered unsafe include: deflated or broken balloons, small balls or other small parts/pieces, magnets (especially if high-powered), toys with ropes or cords, and toys with heating elements or loud noises. Other items that are considered non-toys that may be tempting for kids to play with are sharp scissors, matches, and fireworks.
Now that we know what gifts to avoid, let’s talk about what items to look for. Keep in mind the child’s age and ability level. Most toy packaging will be labeled with the necessary information for you to make an informed choice. For infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, toys should be large enough so that they cannot be swallowed. A good way to determine this is to use a small-parts tester or a toilet paper roll as reference; if the item can fit through this, it is too small for a child at this age. Also, avoid toys with sharp edges or small parts that could easily break off, and be sure all batteries are secure within the toy if applicable.
Grade schoolers may be interested in more adventurous toys such as bikes, roller blades, skateboards, or toy darts or guns to name a few. It may be beneficial to purchase safety equipment to go along with the gift such as a helmet or protective padding, or ask another person to “split the bill” so that getting the item and the protective gear isn’t so expensive. Also, toy guns or darts should be brightly colored so that they are not mistaken as the real deal. If you are purchasing a toy for a child with special needs, choose toys that appeal to different senses such as movement, sound, and texture, and keep in mind the size and weight of the toy. You may also visit the AblePlay website for more special needs gift ideas.
Lastly, as much as we would like to use hand-me-down toys, they may not be the safest option for children. Although these toys may have sentimental value and are cost effective, they may not meet current safety standards or may be worn from previous play, having the potential to break and become a hazard.
Parents! Once the toys your child has received are in hand, here are a few tips once the gifts are open:
- Immediately discard plastic wrapping and other packaging so they don’t become a hazard.
- Keep toys appropriate for older children away from younger children.
- Supervise all battery charging as this may pose a threat of thermal burn to a young child.
- Throw away broken toys or repair them promptly.
- Check toys regularly for broken pieces, finger pinch points, or easily removable parts.
- Store outdoor equipment indoors when not in use so that they are not exposed to the elements.
Are you unsure if a product or toy is safe? Check out the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission or the Safe Kids Worldwide websites for information on recent product recalls.
‘Tis the season of gift giving! As I begin creating my holiday shopping list for the little elves I know, I’ll keep these tips in mind.
Health Tradition Health Plan