Making playtime, safe time
Toys to avoid when shopping this holiday season
In 2005, the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported 20 known toy-related deaths of children under 15 years of age and 202,300 hospital emergency room injuries. Toys leading in the most injuries were unpowered scooters (38,900), riding toys (19,500) and flying toys (9,100).
When thinking of toy safety, consider how toys are made, the age of the child, how toys are used and cared for, and whether supervision during use is needed.
How toys are made
Some important questions to ask include:
- Does it have sharp or pointed edges? Can it be easily broken creating sharp edges?
- Is it stable or could it topple over onto a child (especially one who likes to climb)?
- Is it machine or surface washable? Look for “Washable/hygienic” on stuffed toys and dolls.
- Is it nonflammable or flame resistant? Look for flame retardant/
flame resistant labels on fabric products.
- Does it contain lead or other toxic chemicals? Avoid toys with PVC plastic and cosmetics with xylene, toluene, or dibutyl phthalate. Throw metal jewelry away.
- Is there an Underwriters Laboratory (UL) seal on electrical toys?
The age of the child
Toys today are labeled with recommended ages. These should always be checked, as well as considering the individual development level of the particular child involved.
There are four aspects that determine age guidelines: 1) the child’s ability to physically manipulate the toy 2) the child’s ability to understand how to use the toy, 3) the child’s interests and needs at their developmental level, and 4) the safety aspects of the toy itself.
Children Under Three: The biggest threat to children less than 3 years of age is toys with small parts that pose a choking hazard. Avoid marbles, magnets, balls and games with balls 1¾ inches or less. Nine of the 20 deaths that occurred in 2005 were from choking on a toy. The toys included six balls, a balloon, a bead and a toy dart. One child died after ingesting several magnets that attached to each other creating a blockage. Only buy toys with tightly secured eyes, noses and other parts. Avoid balloons for all ages because of the increased choking danger. A toy chest with a collapsible lid can also pose a danger. One young child died when the lid closed and he could not escape.
Children Three - Five: Toys for children ages 3-6 carry choking hazard warnings to warn consumers the toy is not safe for children less than 3 years of age. However, any older child who still mouths objects should not be given these toys. Avoid toys with straps or cords that fit around the neck, such as a toy guitar. Cut off cords, strings or straps until the child is older. Two children died in 2005 through strangulation. One became entangled in a slinky and ribbon and the other from a cape and bedpost. Avoid toys that are made of thin plastic that can break into pieces or become jagged. Art materials should be marked with ASTM D-4236, a label that indicates review by a toxicologist with any added cautions. Take the batteries out of loud toys or cover speakers with tape.
Children Six - Twelve: Electric toys with heating elements are not recommended for children less than 8 years old. Buy protective gear such as a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads and wrist guards when buying bikes, scooters, skateboards and inline skates. Buy only toy guns that are brightly colored so they are not mistaken for a real gun.
Proper use and care of toys
Read any instructions first before demonstrating how to use a toy safely. Then watch to make sure your child understands. Teach older children to keep toys out of reach of younger children who could become injured by them. Repair or discard broken toys.
Young children must always be supervised. Accidents can happen so fast. When children are on riding toys they need to be supervised and in a safe protected place. Three children died while on riding toys when struck by a motor vehicle. Streets and even sidewalks are not safe when cars back out of driveways.
Toys for older children such as chemistry sets, electric trains, and toys with heating elements should be used properly, cautiously and under adult supervision.
Keep these guidance tips in mind as you shop this year for children's toys.
Patti Faughn, Family Life Educator, University of Illinois Extension, Springfield Center 217-782-6515,