A tradition common during the holidays is the giving of gifts to loved ones, particularly children. But it’s important that the presents are appropriate for children’s ages, skills and abilities, and that any toys given are well-made and safe.
Those are the key messages of National Safe Toys and Gifts Month, observed each December.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has developed a strict set of toy standards. The CPSC closely monitors and regulates toys made in or imported into the United States to be sure they meet those standards. The commission issues recalls of toys that don’t meet the standards and are deemed unsafe.
Toys are recalled for various reasons, including unsafe levels of lead, the presence of choking or fire hazards or any other issues that can make them dangerous.
Even with these standards, about 200,000 toy-related injuries in children 14 and younger are treated in American emergency rooms each year. The majority of these injuries are not serious; the children are treated and released. Still, a handful die each year of toy-related causes. There’s good news, though. The number of injuries and deaths has been steadily decreasing over the past 10 years.
Many times, injuries occur when parents give their children toys that are meant for older children. Before giving a toy, read the label to make sure it is age appropriate. Even if the child seems advanced compared with others the same age, the youngster still shouldn’t play with toys labeled for older children. Age levels for toys are determined by safety factors, not intelligence or maturity.
The best way to avoid a toy-related injury is to be proactive when selecting toys and other gifts for children. Here are some tips to follow before purchasing:
• Read all instructions and warnings listed on the packaging.
• Avoid buying toys with sharp edges, rigid points or spikes.
• Buy toys that can withstand impact and will not break into pieces that can be a choking hazard or cause other injuries.
• Look for the letters “ASTM” on the toy or packaging. That means the toy has met the safety standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
• Avoid toys that shoot, such as BB guns, or include parts that fly off.
Here are some additional tips to keep in mind during National Safe Toys and Gifts Month:
• Learn how to properly use the toy first, then teach the child how to use it.
• Buy quality toys. They might be more expensive, but high-quality materials are less likely to break into pieces and lead to injury.
• Inspect gifts as the child opens them to be sure they are safe before allowing the youngster to play with the toys.
• If you give sports equipment, also give the appropriate protective gear for the sport, such as helmets for bicycles or riding toys. Make sure the gear is sized to fit the child.
• A gift that includes art supplies should be labeled “nontoxic.”
• Keep small toys, “button” batteries and other potential choking hazards away from children younger than 3.
• Keep deflated balloons away from children under 8. Immediately throw away balloons that won’t inflate or have popped.
• Discard plastic wrapping and other toy packaging before they become dangerous playthings for young children.
According to World Against Toys Causing Harm (WATCH), online shoppers are at a disadvantage because they cannot physically inspect the toys before purchasing them. Unfortunately, there are some disreputable online retailers that may omit warnings and provide incomplete or misleading information regarding toy safety. Further, unsafe and recalled toys can resurface on online websites.
If shopping for toys online, be sure to carefully inspect the toy and its packaging for obvious hazards before giving it to the child.
“Don’t let your child unwrap a potential safety hazard this holiday season,” states Joan Lawrence of The Toy Association, a site for toy safety information. “By shopping smart, you can ensure safe play.”