Holiday Toy Safety

Choosing a toy for a child should be as fun and exciting for parents and caregivers as it is for the child who receives the toy as a gift. With the hectic atmosphere that exists at toy stores during the holiday season, no adult wants to be unsure about which toys are safe or appropriate for children. Choosing the right toy for a child can be easily done when you know the facts. Each year approximately 3.5 billion toys and games are sold in the United States, more than half during the holiday season alone. In addition, each year more than 202,000 children ages 14 and under are treated in hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries. 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.

Roanoke Fire-EMS and Safe Kids Worldwide recommends the following tips for selecting gifts this holiday season.

Choose Safe Toys
Even innocent-looking toys-such as marbles and balloons- can present dangers to 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 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 players 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. They could wrap around a child's neck and unintentionally strangle him or her.
  • Electrical toys. They are a potential burn hazard. Avoid toys with a heating element-such as batteries or electrical plugs-for children under age 8.
  • Toys painted with lead paint. Exposure to lead can result in lead poisoning, causing serious damage to a child's brain, kidneys and nervous system.
  • Toy cap guns. Paper roll, strip or ring caps can be ignited by the slightest friction and cause serious burns.
Follow Age Recommendations
Many toy-related injuries occur when parents overestimate a child's ability to handle a toy designed for an older age group. For instance, when a label says, "this toy is not appropriate for children under 3," it isn't because the manufacturer thinks the item 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.

Safe Kids Worldwide recommends the following guidelines for age-appropriate toys:
  • Infants under age 1:
    In the 1st few months of their lives, children are immobile. Eventually, they learn to reach, roll over and sit up. In the second 6 months, children become more mobile and are at increased risk for choking. The most suitable toys for the 1st year include activity quilts, stuffed animals without button noses or 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 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 nontoxic art supplies, books, videos, musical instruments, and outdoor toys such as a baseball tee, slide or swing.
  • Children ages 5 to 9:
    Early in this age group, children become creative and even more physically active. They can write and 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. Remember, children ages 8 and up can use electrical and battery-operated toys. Check them regularly for loose or exposed wires and 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 and interest in scientific activities. 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.
Protective Gear
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 for the holidays. However, if children lack the proper protective gear or skills, injury and death can occur. In 2000, 168 children were killed in bicycle-related incidents, and injuries resulting from bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and in-line and roller skates accounted for well over half a million emergency room visits for children ages 14 and under.

Safe Kids Worldwide recommends the following tips when buying bicycles, tricycles, scooters, skates, skateboards or sleds this holiday season:
  • 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% and the risk of brain injury by as much as 88%. 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 or stickers for an older child who will be riding or skating at dawn or dusk. Reflectors on the bike pedals and wheels also increase a child's visibility.
  • Give a horn or a bell as a stocking stuffer. It's essential for a bicyclist to warn motorists and pedestrians of a his or her presence.
  • Include elbow pads and knee pads with the helmet 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 proper skating etiquette.
  • Buy a sled that is constructed sturdily and safely. Avoid equipment with sharp and jagged edges.
By following the above guidelines, you can make sure that you and your families have a happy and safe holiday season.