Safe Toys and Gifts for Kids

Lurie Children’s prides itself on being a reliable source of information on your child’s health and well-being — and the Sarah and Peer Pedersen Family Learning Center (PFLC) supports that mission. Here, our Patient and Family Education Team at the PFLC brings you helpful information about safe toys and gifts! Remember, this applies all year long, but is especially important during the holiday season!

Did you know…

  • Over 206,000 children in the U.S. were taken to the emergency department in 2021 for toy-related injuries.
  • December is safe toys and gifts month – but it’s important to remember this information all year as you shop for birthday presents or other gifts for kids!
  • The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is the organization that makes various important guidelines for companies to follow and keeps track of any recalls. If you ever need more information about a toy recall, check out their website.

What makes toys unsafe?

We can all agree that toys are fun and an important part of your child’s development. However, if they’re used inappropriately, they can put your child (or any child) in danger.

Toys are made for specific age ranges. If a child is playing with a toy that is not designed for them, they could get hurt. Depending on the scenario, it could even lead to death. Typically, kids playing with toys made for older children is the biggest concern because those toys may have parts that are dangerous for a younger child. Below are some common toy elements that can make a toy unsafe for the child playing with it:

  • Small pieces. If a younger child is playing with a toy made for an older child, the pieces may be too small and could be a choking hazard.
  • Batteries. Batteries are very dangerous for young children who are still exploring their world by putting things in their mouth. Serious injury, or even death, can happen if a child swallows a battery.
  • Magnets. Like batteries, magnets can be incredibly dangerous for young children if they swallow them.
  • Ropes or cords. Kids may get tangled and stuck in a toy with ropes or cords, or a toy that has a net like a basketball hoop. If the toy is on the ground, it could cause them to trip and fall. Or if the cord gets wrapped around a body part, they could lose blood flow to that part. Suffocation is also a dangerous risk if the cord can reach their neck.

How can I make sure my kid’s toys are safe?

One of the best ways to figure out if a toy is appropriate for your child is to look at the package it came in. Toys have an age range or minimum age listed on the package that will tell you who the toy is appropriate for. It may be as simple as a number in a circle – like “5+” meaning the toy is appropriate for kids 5 years old and older – or it may say something like “not for children under 3 years."

Age is commonly used to define who can play with a toy because age is usually an easy way to understand what your child’s skills and abilities are. But remember, if your child’s skills and abilities are different than what is traditionally expected of that age range, you’ll want to buy toys according to their actual abilities and not strictly based on their age. If you aren’t sure what age range to look for when buying toys for your child, talk to their doctor.

One note – be careful of toys handed down from friends or family. While these may have a special meaning, and cost less than new toys, it can be hard to tell what the appropriate age is and if the toy has been evaluated for safety. For example, toys made in the 1970s or earlier could potentially be made with lead paint. If your child puts it in their mouth, it could be incredibly dangerous and cause lead poisoning.

What are some safe toys for kids?

Toys that are considered safe will differ, depending on your child’s age. Remember, guidance from a younger age group may still apply to older kids. For example, you’ll see below to pay attention to how loud a toy is. It’s good to keep noise levels low on all toys, regardless of if your child is 2 or 12 to help protect their hearing. This is especially important with younger children, so it’s noted early on, but can still apply to older children. 

Finding Safe Toys for Babies and Toddlers

Babies explore the world through their senses: touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. They are also developing their motor skills and can begin picking things up. Some toys appropriate for babies can include mobiles, mirrors, and ring stack toys.

Toddlers also explore the world but on their feet! They’ll start understanding that different things have a purpose – like the bell on their fire truck – and are learning their colors and shapes. As they get bigger, they’ll also start using more of their motor skills and may kick a ball, draw with a crayon, or build with blocks. Some toys that can be appropriate for toddlers can include sorting toys like nesting cups or role-playing toys like play kitchens. When looking at toys, consider the following:

  • Size: Toys should be large enough that they will not become stuck in your child’s windpipe or swallowed. To figure out if an item is too small, you can buy and use a device called a “small parts tester.” If you do not have this tester, you can use a toilet paper tube. If an item can fit through the middle of this tube, it is too small for a baby or toddler to play with because it is a choking hazard. This applies to the toy as a whole (like marbles) or a part of a toy (like a figurine that is part of a set). Check items like marbles, coins, small balls or blocks, etc.
  • Safe battery storage: If a toy has batteries, make sure the batteries are in a compartment that can be securely closed. For example, a battery compartment that has a screw that keeps it closed.
  • Washable toys: Stuffed animals should be washable so that you can clean them regularly.
  • Sturdy: Make sure the toy can’t break easily. It should be sturdy enough to be dropped or chewed on and not break. There also shouldn’t be any loose parts or sharp edges.
  • Riding toys: These are toys like wagons, rocking horses, sit-and-scoot toys, etc. Kids should only be using riding toys when they are able to sit up well on their own. This is a great example of making sure your child’s skills and abilities match up with how they use the toy.
  • Noise levels: Choose toys that don’t make loud noises – especially if it is going to be near your child’s ears. If it does make noise, check to see if you can adjust it to make it quieter and put it on the lowest setting.

Finding Safe Toys for School-Age Children (Including Preschoolers)

Preschool kids begin to use their imagination a lot more – maybe turning a blanket and a chair into a rocket ship or a secret hiding spot. They may want to involve others, like parents, siblings, or friends, in these new worlds they’ve created. Some toys that can be appropriate for preschoolers can include puzzles, arts and crafts projects, or block sets that encourage building.

As they grow, they’ll continue to explore and master certain skills. It’s common to see their activities become more physical. They may want to throw a football, ride their two-wheel bike, or play an instrument. Some toys that can be appropriate for older school-aged kids can include card games, instruments, or certain yard games they can play with their friends. When looking at toys, consider the following:

  • Non-toxic: Make sure item, particularly art supplies, are labeled as “nontoxic.” Look for “ASTM D-4236” on crayons and paint. This means the American Society for Testing and Materials has assessed them.
  • Safety gear: If your child is playing with a bike, scooter, skateboard, etc. always make sure they are wearing appropriate safety gear like pads/guards and helmets. Also look for “CPSC” or a “Snell” label showing the item meets safety standards.
  • Safe netting: Toys that have a net, like a basketball hoop or a stand-up goal, should be attached securely. Nets should not be loose or ripped because this can become a strangulation hazard.

These points are more specific to older kids:

  • No pointed ends: Toys like darts or arrows should have a soft end, or it should have a suction cup at the end. Avoid getting toys with sharp or hard ends to reduce the risk of your child (or other children) getting hurt while playing with them.
  • Bright colors: If your child has a toy that looks like a weapon, make sure it is painted bright colors so that it does not look like a real weapon. For example, water guns are bright colors so that you can easily see that it’s a water gun.

General Tips to Help Keep Kids Safe

Some more general tips that can help you keep your kids safe during playtime – at any age – can include:

  • Check the toy before giving it to your child. Make sure it’s not broken, that it’s working how it’s supposed to, and it’s not inappropriate for their age. Continue to check it every once in awhile to make sure it continues to be safe. If it breaks, fix it right away or throw it out.
  • Read the directions if you are not familiar with the toy. This can help you make sure it’s being used appropriately.
  • Teach your kids how to use the toy. Make sure they know what they can do with the toy, and what they can’t do. Emphasize that this is so they stay safe while having fun. In addition to teaching them how to use the toy, also consider teaching them any rules about how they should be using the toy. For example, if you’re playing with darts, do not point or throw darts at anyone else.
  • Teach kids to put their toys away when they’re not using them. This not only keeps the toy off the ground so that others do not step on, or trip over, them – it also helps to make sure that younger siblings don’t get a hold of them. The toy may not be appropriate or safe for younger siblings, so you want to be sure they’re not playing with them.
  • Educate yourself. Know the symptoms of poisoning (such as lead) so you can act fast if your child starts to show these symptoms. Stay up to date on any product recalls so you can remove these from your house as soon as possible. For 30 years, Illinois PIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety to help educate the public and keep kids safe. Read the latest toy safety report.

We hope you will keep these tips in mind as you buy presents for your loved ones – not only during the holiday season but all year long! If you ever have questions on how to keep your children safe, don’t hesitate to talk to your child’s Lurie Children’s provider. We’re happy to help you make the best decisions for your child.

Sources:
American Public Health Association. (2019, December 31). Safe Toys and Gifts Month. https://www.apha.org/events-and-meetings/apha-calendar/2019/safe-toys-and-gifts-month-2019.
Bragg S. Toy-related deaths and injuries calendar year 2021. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Published Nov. 2022. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/ToyRelatedDeathsandInjuries2021.pdf.
KidsHealth. (2018, July). Choosing Safe Toys. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/safe-toys.html.
KidsHealth. (2018, June). Smart Toys for Every Age. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/smart-toys.html.
KidsHealth. (2018, June). Choosing Safe Toys for Toddlers and Preschoolers. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/safetoys-young.html.
KidsHealth. (2018, January). Choosing Safe Baby Products: Toys. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/products-toys.html.

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