Simply because a toy is on the shelf at a toy store doesn't mean that it's completely safe for your child. There are over 1.7 billion toys bought by Americans in one year, and 150,000 toy-related emergency room visits on average in that same time, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Infants and toddlers are at the greatest risk, and even if the toy has been tested for hazards in this age group, safety should always be a concern. Supervise your child's playtime and keep the following safety guidelines in mind.
Read The Label
The first thing you should do as a parent before you buy a toy is read the label. The CPSC has established age-grading recommendations for different toys to help you make an informed choice. Always go by the age recommended, even if you believe your child to be more mature than average.
Look closely on the label to check for other safety information – such as flame resistant/flame retardant on fabric products, and washable/hygienic materials on stuffed animals and dolls – to ensure the toy you buy doesn't present other hazards. Another important word to look for is nontoxic, in case your child accidentally ingests a piece of the toy. Be sure to read the instructions included on playing safely with the toy.
Also, the plastic and cardboard toy packaging could get into your child's hands. Throw it away in the trash or recycling bin: The packaging isn't tested for safety; just the toy is.
What To Look Out For
The CPSC recommends that parents be particularly concerned about any toys that have or include parts that have any of the characteristics on the following list.
Balloons: Young children have suffocated more from uninflated or torn balloons than from any other type of toy. Be sure to dispose of any balloons after a celebration, and always be aware of the dangers.
Small parts: Many toys have tiny removable parts that infants and toddlers can swallow and get lodged in their throats. To avoid a choking hazard, a good rule of thumb is to see if any of the toy's detachable parts can fit into an empty roll of toilet paper. If so, keep the toy away from children under three years old, as they may swallow these smaller pieces. They may also end up in children's ears and nostrils.
Sharp points and edges: Beware of wooden, metal, and plastic toys with sharp edges. Children can poke or puncture themselves easily by playing with toys and reaching for them in the toy chest. Also check that toys are sturdy and will not break easily, leaving jagged edges.
Loud noises: Young children should not play with any toy capable of making 100 decibels of sound or more, as they can damage their sensitive hearing. Many cap guns have been banned, but other toy noisemakers have not, so be sure to look for warnings on the label, or avoid the toys altogether if you're uncertain.
Paint: In 2007, more than a million Chinese-manufactured toys were recalled due to unsafe levels of lead paint used in them. Keep an eye out for the nontoxic label, and remember many old toys and hand-me-downs may contain lead paint, so check with their manufacturers or with the CPSC.
Cords and strings: Never let infants or young children play with toys that have cords or strings, because the cords might become accidentally wrapped around the child’s neck and lead to strangulation.
Projectiles: Many of the eye injuries reported from toy-related emergency room visits come as a result of projectile toys. Look for soft cork tips or rubber suction cups on the ends of projectiles.
Electric toys: On electrical toys, look for the UL (Underwriter’s Laboratories) seal, which indicates the toy has been tested for safety. Regardless, it’s not recommended to let children under eight years old handle electronic toys, due to heating surface temperatures and possible battery hazards.
Storage: To avoid any slips, trips, or falls, get in the habit of telling your children to store their toys in a toy chest or other box, and to never leave them around or on a staircase.
Report Unsafe Toys
If you’re unsure about a toy’s safety, or you wish to report a toy-related injury, call the CPSC at 1-800-638-2772. Stay up-to-date on toy recalls via the CPSC and Recalls.gov.
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