Give the Gift of Safety
Approximately 3.8 billion toys and games are sold each year in the United States, more than half during the holiday season alone. Although the majority of toys are safe, they can become dangerous if misused or if they fall into the hands of children who are too young to play with them.
"Toys are an important part of a child’s development,” says Heather Paul, Ph.D., executive director of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. “But parents need to follow the age and safety recommendations on the labels of each toy. They take into account not only children’s cognitive skills, but their ability to handle the toy safely as well.”
The National SAFE KIDS Campaign recommends the following precautionary tips when selecting toys:
Select Safe Toys
Each year, more than 118,000 children ages 14 and under are treated in hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries. Innocent-looking toys – such as marbles and balloons – present a choking hazard to small children. The Child Safety Protection Act, a federal toy labeling law, requires manufacturers to place warning labels on toys that pose a choking hazard to young children.
When selecting a toy for your child, avoid the following:
- Toys with small removable parts. The small parts are hazardous and can pose a choking hazard to children under age 3. Use a small parts tester (which can be purchased at a toy or baby specialty store) to measure the size of the toy or part. If the piece fits entirely inside the tube, then it is considered a choking hazard.
- Toys with sharp points or edges: Children may unintentionally cut themselves or another person.
- Toys that produce loud noises: Toy guns and high-volume portable cassette recorders can permanently impair a child’s hearing.
- Propelled toy darts and other projectiles: Propelled toys can cause cuts or serious eye injuries.
- Toys with strings, straps or cords longer than 7 inches: Long strings and cords could wrap around a child’s neck and unintentionally strangle them.
- Electrical toys: Electrical toys are a potential burn hazard. Avoid toys with a heating element – batteries, electrical plugs – for children under age 8. If toys for younger children have batteries, the battery compartments should be secured with screws to make them inaccessible to children.
- Toy cap guns: Paper roll, strip or ring caps can be ignited by the slightest friction and cause serious burns.
- Toys painted with lead paint. www.cpsc.gov.
Follow Age Recommendations When Selecting Toys
Many toy-related injuries occur when parents overestimate their child’s ability to handle a toy designed for an older age group. When a label says, “this toy is not appropriate for children under 3,” it isn’t because the manufacturer thinks the items might be too tough for a 24-month-old to figure out, but because the toy is small (or has small parts) and poses a choking hazard.
The National SAFE KIDS Campaign recommends using the following guidelines for age-appropriate toys:
Infants under age 1:
In the first few months of their lives, children are immobile. Eventually, they learn to reach, roll over and sit up. In the second six months, children become more mobile and are at an increased risk for choking. The most suitable toys for the first year include activity quilts, stuffed animals without button noses and eyes, bath toys, soft dolls, baby swings, cloth books and squeaky toys.
Children ages 1 to 3:
At this age, children are curious and have little sense of danger. They like to climb, jump, throw and play rough-and-tumble games. The best toys for this age group are books, blocks, fit-together toys, balls, push-and-pull toys, pounding toys and shape toys.
Children ages 3 to 5:
As any parent of a preschooler can tell you, these children “think with their feet” and spend much of their time running. They like tests of physical strength and begin to develop skills such as the ability to ride a tricycle, finger control, and the ability to build with large blocks and construction materials. Toys that are most suitable for this age group include approved nontoxic art supplies, books, videos, musical instruments, and outdoor toys such as a baseball tee, slide or swing.
Children ages 5 to 9:
In the early part of this age group, children become creative and more physically active. They can write, engage in arts and crafts, and they are able to use simple mechanical toys such as cars and trains. Recommended toys include craft materials, jump ropes, puppets, books, electric trains (after age 8) and sports equipment. Check tape recorders and battery-operated toys regularly for loose or exposed wires. Don’t allow children to change batteries.
Children ages 9 to 14:
At this age, children enjoy team sports and games that require increased dexterity such as pick-up sticks, marbles and jacks. Strenuous physical activity is also popular for this age group. Children begin to develop hobbies. For these children, appropriate gifts include computers, microscopes, table and board games, and outdoor and team sports equipment. Ensure that older children’s toys are kept out of reach of younger children, for whom they may present a danger.
Remember, a Gift is not Complete Unless the Proper Protective Gear is Included
Bicycles, in-line skates, scooters, skateboards and sleds are also popular gifts. However, if children lack the proper protective gear or skills, injury and death can occur.
The National SAFE KIDS Campaign recommends the following tips when buying bicycles, tricycles, scooters, skates, skateboards or sleds:
- Include a helmet as part of the gift. A helmet is a necessity, not an accessory. Bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent and the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent. Make sure the helmet meets or exceeds the safety standards developed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, American National Standards Institute, the Snell Memorial Foundation, the American Society for Testing and Materials or the new federal standard.
- Buy retro-reflective clothing, stickers or bike reflectors for an older child who will be riding or skating at dawn or dusk. Reflectors on the pedals and wheels also increase a child’s visibility.
- Give a horn or bell as a stocking stuffer. A horn or bell is essential for bicyclists to warn motorists and pedestrians of their presence.
- In addition to a helmet, include elbow pads and knee pads when giving in-line skates, scooters, roller skates or skateboards as gifts. Make sure to include wrist guards for in-line skates, roller skates and skateboards.
- Give in-line skating lessons from a professional instructor or a community recreation center. A class will provide instruction on how to skate properly and on proper skating etiquette.
- Buy a sled that is constructed sturdily and safely. Avoid equipment with sharp and jagged edges.