General Toy Safety Tips for Parents

Millions of toys were recalled in 2008 alone because of potential hazards they pose to children. For parents, this can be quite unnerving. How do you know which of the thousands of toys on the shelves are safe for your child? This guide offers a few simple tips.

New parents tend to overindulge in buying toys for their kids. Rattles, mobiles, toy cars, plush animals—there are literally thousands of toys on the shelves, all promising to amuse, entertain, or even educate our children. But few parents are aware that hundreds of thousands of kids are injured every year by substandard toys. In 2008 alone, millions of toys were recalled because they posed potential hazards to children.

The numbers can be worrying, but don’t swear off toys just yet. There are several things you can do to make sure you get only the safest toys for your kids. Most of the time, you just need to think ahead and use a bit of common sense. Here are some tips to help you out.

Watch out for the usual hazards.

Points, sharp edges, long cords, and heating elements are most common causes of toy-induced accidents. Keep an eye out for these hazards; if a toy has even a small point or edge, don’t pick it up. Large moving parts such as wheels and handles shouldn’t be a problem, unless they are rough, heavy, pointed or abrasive. Some of the safest toys are balls, toy wagons, and plush toys (unless they have sewn-on buttons or beads).

Avoid small parts.

If you’re taking your kids to the store, they may be attracted to toys with lots of small moving parts. While these are certainly fun, they pose a major hazard especially to younger children. A curious kid will put anything in his mouth, and those small, colorful pieces of plastic are sure to catch his eye. As much as possible, stick to solid, one- or two-piece toys with easily identifiable parts. If some of your old toys pose choking hazards, see if you can remove the problem piece and replace it with something safer.

Weight matters.

Make sure the toy is light enough for your child to pick up and carry around. Heavy toys may be sturdier, but they can seriously injure your child if they’re dropped. Look for lightweight plastic toys that are sturdily constructed and have no metal parts, such as screws, nails and rivets. Have them play around with the toy for a couple of minutes; if they seem comfortable with it, then it’s a safe weight.

Discard the packaging immediately.

Plastic wrapping, ropes, cardboard boxes, and other packaging materials can cause injury in the wrong hands. Throw them away before your child can find them; chances are they’ll be just as interested in the wrapping as they are in their new toys. Plastic wraps are particularly risky because they’re easy to spot, and if used the wrong way, they can cause suffocation and even death. As much as possible, give them the toy free of any wrapping, even wrapping paper.

Choose suitable toys.

Make sure the toys you get are right for your child’s age, size, abilities, and interest levels. Toys that are too advanced can bee too complicated for them to handle. If your child is still overly curious, you might even want to go a couple of years back—toys for younger kids have fewer small parts and are designed to withstand rough play.

Don’t follow the age recommendations.

The recommended ages are usually indicated on the package; some stores even arrange their toys according to age. However, not all kids are the same—a toddler may be able to handle an eight-year-old toy better than an actual eight-year-old. Use the manufacturer’s recommendation only as a rough guide; it’s still up to you to know whether or not a toy is right for your child.

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