How to give safe gifts to children during the holidays

December 13, 2013 Elizabeth Meade, MD

As the holidays approach, parents often wonder what toys are safe for their little ones.  When making your list and checking it twice, here are some tips to ensure that toys are appropriate for the age and developmental stage of your giftees.

For younger children/infants:

  • Make sure all parts are larger than the child’s mouth.  Most children age 3 and under consistently put toys in their mouth, and some older children do as well.  A small-parts tester, or “no-choke tube” is about the size of a small child’s airway and can be purchased to test parts if you are unsure.  If a part or toy fits inside the tube, it’s too small to be safe.
  • When buying stuffed toys, look for embroidered or secured parts rather than pieces (such as eyes or noses) that could be removed and swallowed.  Remove all loose strings and ribbons.  Avoid animals with stuffing made of small pellets or material that could cause choking. Be aware that stuffed toys given away at carnivals, fairs, or in vending machines are not required to meet safety standards, so be especially careful with these!
  • When buying hanging toys for cribs, ensure that the child cannot grab any portion, and that strings or wires are short.  These types of toys should be removed when the infant can push up onto his or her hands and knees.
  • Keep plush toys and loose, soft bedding out of the cribs of infants and young children as these can cause suffocation.

For all children:

  • Look for labeling on the package that indicates what ages the toy is appropriate for.  Remember that this doesn’t have to do with how smart your child is, it is based on physical and developmental skills for his or her age group and should be followed.
  • Ensure that batteries are firmly enclosed and not accessible to children.  Warn children of all ages not to put magnets in noses or mouths.  Younger kids often do this out of curiosity, and older children or teens may use magnets as “fake piercings” for fun.  Button batteries are now common in many household objects, and are about the size of a pill or coin.  In the body, these can release an electrical current that can cause serious injury in as little as 2 hours and can even be fatal.  If you think your child may have put a button battery into his/her ears/nose/mouth, go to the nearest ER immediately.
  • Listen to toys that make noise before purchasing to ensure that sounds are appropriate for your child’s age and will not damage their hearing.
  • Toys made of fabric should be labeled “flame resistant” or “flame retardant” and painted toys should use lead-free paint.
  • Wheeled toys such as bikes, skateboards, scooters, and skates should ALWAYS come with a helmet and a clear understanding that the child needs to wear it every time they roll!
  • Electric toys should be labeled “UL” which means they have met safety standards for these types of products.

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