How to Choose Safe Toys for Children: Watch Out for Hidden Hazards

Whether you’re a seasoned parent or buying a gift for a co-worker’s baby shower, here’s what you need to know to choose fun and safe toys for children.

Children of all ages love toys, and adults love to buy them. Today we have access to a vast selection of toys from all over the world.

We can find toys in almost every store, even grocery stores, in thrift and antique shops, and through online sellers. Let’s not forget the toys in Grandma’s basement, like the dolls and dump trucks children played with back when home internet service was dial-up.

Unfortunately, more than 700 children end up in the emergency room every day with toy-related injuries, and on average, at least one child a month doesn’t survive. ¹

Here we’ve gathered the latest toy safety recommendations for children by age – and the hidden hazards an informed toy shopper needs to know.

Toy Tips for Children of Any Age

Americans spend over $28 billion on toys each year for children of all ages. ²

While most playthings are safe and fun, some toys are downright dangerous. Here are the most common safety recommendations for toys and games intended for children of any age:

  • Age Appropriate: Most modern toy packaging comes with a statement of the age group that can safely use the toy and its components. If the toy is intended as a gift for someone else’s child, be mindful of the presence of other children in the home who could get hurt.
  • Sharp Edges: Avoid toys with rough, sharp, or pointed edges that can cut or puncture a child’s skin. All toys, old and new, should be carefully checked for safe construction.
  • Art Materials: Choose crayons, paints, and other art materials that are marked with “ASTM D-4236.” The code signifies a toxicologist has checked the materials in compliance with federal toy safety regulations.
  • Riding Toys: When you buy a bicycle, tricycle, scooter, skateboard, roller skates, or any other ride-on toy, buy a helmet to go with it. Helmets are a must, and other safety equipment like elbow and knee pads are always a good idea.

Watch out for:

  • Magnets: Toys and other household items with magnets have been causing catastrophic injuries to young children. When a child swallows a magnet, the magnet can be attracted to other magnets or metal items. The moving magnet creates serious damage and infection in the child’s body.
  • Helmet Quality:  Thousands of children suffer traumatic brain injuries every year that could have been avoided if they were wearing a helmet while bicycling or skateboarding. Choose a helmet with a sticker that shows the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) approved it.
  • Helmet Fit: Don’t buy a bigger helmet to allow for growth. Follow expert guidelines for fitting a child safety helmet.
  • Toy Recalls: Check the CPSC Recall List for the latest information on recalled and dangerous toys.

Buying Baby Toys and Equipment

When picking out toys for newborns, infants, and toddlers under the age of three, safety recommendations are meant to prevent choking or suffocation.

  • Stuffed Toys: Plush “fur” coverings should be very short with smooth and tight seams. Avoid toys with attached buttons or glued-on eyes or decorations that can become loose over time. Babies should not sleep with stuffed toys in their crib.
  • Crib Mobiles: Mobiles and hanging gyms aren’t safe for babies who are beginning to get up on hands and knees, due to the strangulation risk.
  • Go Big: Blocks, shape sorters, and puzzles are excellent toys for toddlers. Toddler toys should be larger than a child’s mouth. Even puzzle pieces should be no smaller than 1½ inches around and 2½ inches long.
  • Play Tools and Foods: Toddlers learn and grow with play dishes, foods, brooms, mops, and cell phones. Make sure the toys aren’t too small and are made from safe materials.

Watch out for:

  • Strings: Avoid yarn, ribbons, pull strings, or any other cord longer than 12 inches on toys or bedding. Ribbons and strings can easily get wrapped around a child’s neck, causing strangulation. Watch out for long cords on older pull toys and play telephones.
  • Harmful Plastics: That plastic teething ring or toy banana could be leaching harmful chemicals. Avoid buying plastic toys made with toxic chemicals.
  • Dangerous Baby Furniture: More than 10,000 children are seriously injured every year from dangerous furniture, mostly involving unsafe baby cribs. That drop-side crib may have been used in your family for generations, but it’s not worth risking a young child’s safety today.

Tips on Toys for Pre-Schoolers

Kids just past the baby stage are eager to explore their surroundings and use their imaginations. Many children in this age group continue to put things into their mouth, especially when tired or upset.

  • Building Blocks: Wooden and plastic building blocks are great for preschool-age children. Larger-sized blocks are easier to stack, and less of a choking hazard. Avoid magnetized building sets. Swallowed magnets are extremely hazardous to children.
  • Lacing Cards: Colorful pictures punched and ready for outlining build motor skills. Just be sure the weaving strings are less than 12 inches long, to avoid accidental strangulation.
  • Hand Puppets: Puppets are wonderful for pretend play and learning to communicate. Stay away from puppets with small attachments like button eyes or detachable accessories.
  • Alphabet Sets: Magnetized alphabet sets that once graced almost every family’s refrigerator door are no longer safe for preschoolers. Choose non-magnetized alphabet and number sets for safer learning.
  • Loud Toys: Bells, whistles, sirens, and other mechanized sound effects may frighten some young children.

Watch out for:

  • Balloons: Balloons are not recommended for young children. Kids can easily inhale and choke on balloons while trying to blow them up or when one breaks.
  • Riding Toys: Tricycles and scoot-along toys can be especially hazardous when used outside. Several toy-related deaths have been due to motorists running over small children riding their toy in parking areas or into the street.
  • Button Batteries: Batteries are small, easy to remove from toys, and easily swallowed. Ingested batteries can corrode, causing severe internal injuries to children.

Toy Safety for School-Age Kids

Toy makers love marketing to this age group because school-age kids are easily dazzled by media commercials, store displays, and what they see other kids playing with. Toy fads come and go. What hasn’t changed is that sometimes, the latest toy fad turns out to be a serious hazard to children.

  • Chemistry Sets: Geeks are totally “in” now, but children under the age of twelve should not use some science sets. Chemicals can cause burns, skin irritation, and may be poisonous if ingested or inhaled.
  • Loud Toys: Devices for recording or playing music may come with microphones, earbuds, or headphones. High-volume toys can damage a child’s hearing.
  • Toy Blasters:  Toy guns and rocket launchers can cause serious eye injuries, even when the projectile is a “soft” ball or disk.
  • Sports Equipment: Whether it’s soccer, football, or tennis, make sure your child has the correct shoes and safety gear to keep them safe while playing sports.

Watch Out For:

  • Trampolines: Falls from trampolines can cause severe injuries. Head and neck injuries account for up to 17 percent of injuries, mainly from kids falling off the trampoline. Nearly thirty percent of injuries in kids older than six involved fractures and dislocations.
  • Motorized Riding Toys: Kids on moving riding toys need helmets and supervision around areas with full-sized cars. Scooters, go-carts, and other motorized toys can be hazardous around in-ground pools. Children have drowned after accidentally driving into an in-ground pool.
  • All-Terrain Vehicles: ATV accidents are a preventable cause of injuries and death for kids under the age of 16. More than 100 children die each year, and another 40,000 are hurt badly enough to end up in the emergency room.

Helpful Child Safety Resources

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>