'Tis the season for holiday safety! With sales everywhere you turn and the next big thing in kids' gifts on every television screen and magazine ad, the impulse to purchase toys based on "cool factor" instead of "safety factor" is nearly overwhelming this time of year. No one wants to be that person (y'know, the sock and underwear gifter), but there is a way to shop safe without having to buy boring stuff for the kids this year. Here are two things to keep in mind throughout your holiday mall runs.
Shop for Age-Appropriate Toys
Most of the toy manufacturers make this pretty easy by putting age-range stickers on the packaging, but in case you happen to find a toy that's not clearly marked, here are some general rules about shopping based on age.
Birth to age 3:
- When purchasing toys for the really little ones, make sure they are able to withstand the beating they will most definitely be taking in those tight, adorable, chubby fists. That means no breakable parts; think soft toys, soft books, soft puppets (no button eyes or noses), soft squeeze balls, and nothing super-heavy that could fall or pin the child or with parts that can snap shut on tiny fingers.
- Avoid anything with small parts or pieces that could come off and become lodged in the throat. That includes limiting the size of toy balls to nothing smaller than 1.75 inches in diameter.
- Make sure stuffed toys are washable.
- Rattles and teethers must be big enough that they cannot become lodged in the throat.
- Avoid crib and playpen toys that need to be tied to the crib with string, as strings can become wrapped around an infant's neck and cause strangulation.
- This may be a bit obvious, but no sharp points, glass, brittle plastic, or electrical parts.
Be sure toys are safe for teething and for being chewed on; make sure all toys are created with non-toxic materials and are appropriately labeled.
Buying for 3-to-5-year-olds:
- As children grow and gain more motor ability, you can gradually begin to introduce some toys that are projectiles, plastic dolls, musical boxes, dress-up costumes, and other more complex items, like rhythm instruments, art supplies, and, for 4- and 5-year-olds, board games with some smaller parts, like dominoes, or card games.
- Once again, avoid any toys that are brittle or that could easily break apart into pieces with sharp edges or shatter (no glass).
- Art supplies should always be labeled nontoxic.
- Basic sports equipment like baseballs and soccer balls should be junior/kiddie-sized and soft. For 5-year-olds, jump ropes are okay but should always be used with adult supervision.
- Roller skates should have no ball bearings, so that they move slower to prevent fall injuries.
- Ice skates should be double-bladed for increased stability.
Check Toy Materials for Safety
Be very careful where you purchase your toys from, and be especially vigilant about what they're made of. Toys made in China do not need to pass the same rigorous screenings and safety testing that toys made in the United States and Europe do. If you are purchasing a toy from overseas, be sure that the toys do not have any of the following in them:
- Toxic dyes, paints, or filler fluids (like in teething rings)
- Batteries that can be accessed by a child (all battery compartments should be made so children can't open them).
Especially with art supplies, make sure that crayons and paints say "ASTM D-4236" on the package, as that shows they have been evaluated by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
Shopping safe supports toy-makers who really have your child's safety at heart. Many of these toy-makers create toys in the United States, so you're helping boost the economy as well. Buying safe toys not only helps give you some peace of mind, but it also ensures that this holiday, the children in your family stay happy, healthy, and safe.