Giving gifts to children is a favorite part of winter holidays. When choosing a toy for a child, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the toy be appropriate for the child's age and stage of development. This makes it more likely the toy will engage the child – and reduces the risk it could cause injury. Below are some additional tips from the AAP on toy selection and safety:
- Pick age-appropriate toys. Most toys show a "recommended age" sticker, which can be used as a starting point in the selection process. Be realistic about your child's abilities and maturity level when choosing an age-appropriate toy. Toys that have projectiles, for example, and are a risk for eye injury. Likewise, if your 3-year-old still puts everything into her mouth, wait a little longer to give her toys and games with small parts and pieces.
- Choose toys that are well-made. Used toys passed down from older relatives or siblings or bought at yard sales can be worn or frayed, which can sometimes be dangerous. Check all toys – new or used – for buttons, batteries, yarn, ribbons, eyes, beads, and plastic parts that could easily be chewed or snapped off. Make sure a stuffed animal's tail is securely sewn on and the seams of the body are reinforced. Parts on other toys should be securely attached. Make sure there are no sharp edges and the paint is not peeling. Be cautious about toys containing button batteries or magnets. Children can have serious stomach, throat and intestinal problems – including death – after swallowing button batteries or magnets.
- Think big. Until your child turns 3, toy parts should be bigger than his mouth to prevent the possibility of choking. To determine whether a toy poses a choking risk, try fitting it through a toilet paper roll. If a toy or part of a toy can fit inside the cylinder, it's not safe.
- Skip the balloons. They may be cheerful party decorations and fun to bounce around, but latex balloons are the main cause of toy-related choking fatalities in children. When ingested, uninflated balloons (or pieces of burst balloons) can form a tight seal in a child's airway and make it impossible to breathe.
- To prevent burns and electrical shocks, do not give children under age 10 a toy that must be plugged into an electrical outlet. Instead, buy toys that are battery-operated.
- Don't pick toys with a string or cord longer than 12 inches. A cord can too easily wrap around a young child's neck, causing strangulation. Once your child can climb up on his hands and knees, remove crib gyms and hanging mobiles from his crib. Be particularly vigilant about older toys. For example, an older model of a popular play kitchen may have a phone attached with a potentially deadly cord, while the latest model of the same kitchen has the more current and safer cordless phone.
- Watch out for toxic toys. Even when you find a toy that seems safe, you'll want to be sure it's not made with chemicals that can harm your child. Phthalates, or "plasticizers," are used to make plastic more flexible and durable, and these chemicals are found in many toys.
- When your child receives a gift, be sure to read the label and instructions. Warning labels give important information about how to use a toy and what ages it is for. Be sure to show your child how to use the toy.
Parents should store toys in a designated location, such as on an open shelf or in a bin, and keep older kids' toys away from young children. If you use a toy box, choose one with no lid. See Toy Box Safety on HealthyChildren.org for more tips.