Is That Toy Dangerous? 10 Safety Tips Parents Need

Toys are supposed to be all about fun, but kids aren't always the best judges of how to handle toys safely. Find out what steps you can take to make sure your child has a safe playtime.

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By Elizabeth Pantley

To kids, there’s nothing more exciting than playing with a new toy. To parents, there’s nothing more important than making sure their children are safe and sound. The word “toy” has almost become synonymous with “harmless”—but thousands of children end up in hospitals every year from toy-related injuries.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is the relatively small agency that tests 15,000 consumer products from kitchen appliances, to escalators, to kids’ toys. The CPSC is responsible for banning dangerous toys and materials as well as ensuring the proper safety labels make it onto the box, but what can parents do to make sure their kids aren’t in danger from their own toys? Check out these ten ways to play it safe.

Dispose of the Packaging

Discard any plastic wrapping, bags, packaging, or tags after purchasing a toy for your child. Packing materials, especially Styrofoam and plastic wrap, can be a suffocation risk, and can't be expelled using the Heimlich maneuver, so make sure they've been cleared from the area and the toy's totally packing-free before playtime (don’t forget to check for any tiny twist-ties or bits of adhesive). For kids under eight, balloons pose the same risk, causing more choking deaths each year than any other children’s product. If you can’t forgo balloons entirely, go for the Mylar variety instead of latex.

Watch for Choking Hazards

If your child is under six years old, anything small enough to fit in his mouth could be a choking hazard. When you’re shopping for toys, bring an empty toilet paper roll and use it as a guide: if the parts are small enough to fit in the tube, there may be a choking risk. Look out for pieces that may become loose from a larger toy too, such as buttons, beads, caps and toy car tires. Use your hands to try to pry off car wheels, action figure arms, and small parts. Sure, if you break it, you buy it—but if you can pull off a part, so can your kid.

Buy Lead-Free Toys

Lead exposure can have many harmful physical and mental effects on children. The good news is, using lead paint in toys except in harmless trace amounts has been banned in the US. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 requires toy-makers to test for any hazardous materials, and label the packages to show when and where they were made. If the toy was manufactured after 2008 and in the US, it’s safe to say the materials are non-toxic. However, if the toy was made abroad or before 2008 and doesn’t have a lead-free label, consider another brand that does.

Prepare for Smooth Sailing

Check toys for sharp points, rough edges, rust, and broken parts before letting them feature during playtime, and take any potential “ouch” areas into consideration when you’re picking out toys at the store. Brittle plastic trucks or blocks might crack if they’re stepped on or crushed at the bottom of the toy box and could leave your child with a painful scratch or pinch.

Mind the Age Gap

Always abide by the age rating on the package. No matter how smart your child is or how wonderful the toy, don't second-guess the manufacturer, since age rankings often are given due to safety issues. If you choose to purchase a toy with an older age recommendation for your little genius, be sure that the toy’s used only when you’re playing with him, and that it is stored where he can’t get to it on his own.

Clear the Crib

If your child is less than a year old, remove rattles, squeeze toys, teethers, stuffed animals, and other small playthings from the crib or bed when your baby goes down for naps or bedtime to reduce the risk of SIDS and suffocation. The only exception here is a special made-for-baby toy that has been carefully designed for safe sleeping. Once your baby hits the toddler stage, soft, child-safe bed companions are fine.

Be Cautious With Cords and Magnets

For babies and toddlers, avoid pull toys with long cords that could wind around the neck or fingers. Pull toys for young children should have either very short strings or rigid handles. Magnets are in everything from toy cars to Barbie accessories. In addition to being a choking risk, if kids swallow more than one magnet, they can attract each other inside the body and cause a life-threatening tear to organs. If a toy on your shopping list has magnets, make sure to regularly check that none are loose.

Don’t Forget To Protect Ears

More than one in seven kids aged 6 to 17 show signs of hearing loss, according to a 1998 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Guidelines for toys set the loudness threshold at 90 decibels; the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that regular listening at 85 decibels or higher can result in hearing damage. Lots of toys on today’s shelves exceed these safety standards. You can buy an inexpensive kit to test decibel levels from the comfort of your own living room, or you can just use common sense and avoid toys that seem too loud, in favor of quiet models.

Be Careful With Used Toys

Toy regulations have improved over the past several years, but there’s no way to account for old toys made before the new rules were implemented, even if there was a product recall. If a toy is second-hand—whether it was purchased from a thrift store or garage sale, or given to you by a friend—make an extra-thorough safety check. If you have any doubts, always err on the side of safety. Don’t let your child play with a paint-finished toy that appears to be older than a few years.

Don’t Share

Your third grader may be excited to play with his action figures around his little sister, so it’s important that you keep toys and toy parts designed for your older child out of your younger one’s hands. Encourage safe sibling playtime by setting out some bigger and softer toys for them to play with together. Unless you can give some close supervision, shelve the potentially hazardous toys for later.

Playtime is essential for helping your child develop motor skills, figure out how things work, and learn how to use his imagination and entertain himself, among other benefits. Play it safe with these few steps, and you’ll rest easy knowing that your little one will continue to grow and thrive with playthings that are fun and safe.

Want to have some indoor fun without dishing out money for new toys? Try these activities to do when you're stuck inside!

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