Of the approximately 3.5 billion toys and games sold each year in the United States, more than half are sold during the winter holiday season. That not only offers a tremendous opportunity to spread joy through toy gift giving but also increases the risk that a child will be injured by an inappropriate toy.
Although most toys are safe, toys can become dangerous if misused or if they fall into the hands of children who are too young to play with them. 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 warns, for instance, that a toy is not appropriate for children under 3, it is not necessarily because the manufacturer thinks a younger child is not smart enough to figure out what to do with the toy, but often because the toy is small (or has small parts) and poses a choking hazard. 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.
What to avoid when toy shopping
Each year, more than 200,000 children, age 14 and under, are treated in hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries. To reduce the risk of these injuries, the Medical Society of the State of New York and the New York State Department of Health offer these recommendations about what to avoid when selecting toys for children.
Avoid toys with small removable parts. The small parts can pose a choking hazard to children younger than 3. Use a small parts tester—a small tube that 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.
Avoid toys with sharp points or edges. Children may unintentionally cut themselves or another person.
Avoid toys that produce loud noises. Toy guns and high-volume portable music players can permanently impair a child’s hearing.
Avoid toy cap guns. Paper roll, strip or ring caps can be ignited by the slightest friction and cause serious burns.
Avoid toy darts and other projectiles. Propelled toys can cause cuts or serious eye injuries.
Avoid toys with strings, straps or cords longer than 4 inches. Long strings and cords could wrap around a child’s neck and unintentionally strangle him or her.
Avoid electrical toys. These toys are potential burn hazards. Avoid toys with any heating elements, such as batteries and electrical plugs, for children younger than 8.
Gifts that go
Bicycles, scooters, skates and sleds can help a child get around with speed and style, but do not forget about safety. Here are some specific recommendations for gifts that go.
Include a helmet as part of the gift. A helmet is a necessity, not an accessory. Make sure the helmet fits properly and meets or exceeds the safety standards developed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Add a horn or bell as well. Bicycle riders need a horn or bell to warn motorists and pedestrians of their presence.
Buy reflective clothing, stickers or bike and scooter reflectors for children who will be riding, scooting, skating or just walking at dawn or dusk or even when darker.
Include elbow pads and kneepads when giving in-line skates, scooters, roller skates or skateboards as gifts. Add wrist guards for in-line skates, roller skates and skateboards.
If there is a sled in your head and the thrill of a hill, choose a sled that is constructed sturdily and safely. Avoid equipment with sharp and jagged edges.
To find out what toys have already been recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission or to report an unsafe toy, call the CSPC hotline at 800-638-2772 or log on to its website at www.cpsc.gov.