Shop Smart: Toy Safety Guide for the Holidays

child playing with toy on christmas

Parents spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not their kids will like the gifts they get for the holidays. There is also that nagging feeling about toy safety with recalls seemingly happening every day. But while it’s important to think about safety, especially during times like Christmas, you don’t want to get yourself too worked up. Armed with a few facts and a little common sense, you can make sure your kid’s holiday is not only merry and bright, but also safe.

Last year, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund published their annual report on toy safety. The report focused on three areas of concern: choking hazards, lead in toys and children’s jewelry and phthalates in children’s plastic products.

Lead and phthalates are indeed dangerous; lead has been found to be harmful to the developing bodies of young children, especially to their brain. Phthalates can cause early onset puberty and reproductive defects–there is currently a permanent ban on the use of three types of phthalates in all toys and an interim ban on three other types. Pay special attention to certain types of toys, such as antique painted ones (before lead was banned in paint) and those imported from countries like China and Mexico where safety standards are different from the U.S. Of course avoiding products from China all together will be difficult since 80 percent of the world’s toys come from China, but be wary of ones with lots of painted parts.

Choking is still a big concern even though more than 30 years ago, the CPSC starting banning the sale of toys with small parts to children under the age of 3 years old. Currently, toys and other items with small parts are required to have warning labels stating that they are a choking hazard and are not suitable for children under the age of 3 years. Even still, 2010 almost 6 million toys have been recalled in the U.S. and in Canada, because of the choking hazard they posed.

If you keep in mind this simple safety checklist when shopping this season, you should rest easy about the safety of your kids’ presents:

  • Carefully examine toys before allowing your child to play with them, no matter what the packaging states. Look for parts that may cause a problem, country it’s made in and heavily painted items.
  • Make sure the present is age appropriate. Always check the age range on the box.
  • Product recalls are ongoing. Search the database on the website and also sign up to receive email notification of new recalls.
  • If given the option, register the toys you receive with the manufacturer so that you will be notified in case of a recall.
  • Toys containing magnets are very popular this year but magnets are not safe for children younger than age 6.
  • Watch your younger children when playing with the toys of an older sibling, particularly concerning choking hazards and small parts.
  • If buying items like scooters and ride-on cars, purchase the safety equipment that goes along with them such as helmets and knee-pads.

According to the Wall Street Journal, toy-related deaths were actually down last year and in 96 percent of ER visits for toy-related accidents, kids were treated and released. Immediate dangers to your children come in the form of choking hazards and motorized and non-motorized riders. Bike falls, big wheel crashes and skateboarding tricks gone wrong are all the more reason to get kids a helmet.

Everyone wants a bicycle for Christmas, but no one likes the trip to the ER afterward.

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