Updated: Jul 20, 2022
Did you know that in 2020, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 198,000 toy-related injuries were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments? Unfortunately, that’s a largely preventable statistic! With so many toy drives, fundraisers, and other gift-giving opportunities happening this season, December has been designated National Safe Toys and Gifts Month. We want you to have the tips and tricks to SAFE toy and gift buying before you head out on those last-minute shopping trips!
There is a TON to consider when you're buying toys and gifts for kiddos these days. Do you go for the tried and true toy that's been around for 60 years, or do you spring for that new thing with all the buttons and lights? Do you go for something educational or just something entertaining? There's so much out there to pick from, and SO many opinions to sift through. Where do you even start? Well, the answer is... SAFETY! Yes, we totally get it. It can be a REAL challenge to weigh a child's wishes and developmental needs against safety, but it's the most important thing to do!
Why is safety so important?
Although we as parents, guardians, or caregivers try our absolute best to teach our children to be careful, we often learn that that doesn't stop their natural curiosity. Our little explorers rely on us to make sure that they are set up for success!
While toy-related injuries have decreased over the years and toy-related fatalities are becoming rarer and rarer, we rely on safety measures to continue decreasing those numbers to 0.
How can I be sure my gift is safe?
We have created an easy way for all shoppers to ensure their gift is meeting the proper safety standards. Before you buy a toy, run through our SAFE-TEE (safety) checklist below!
Take a look at the overall size of the toy and the size of any parts that the toy comes with. For kiddos who like to put things in their mouths, small toys and toy parts pose a significant choking risk. One rule of thumb from Children's Health is "If the toy or its components can fit into an empty toilet paper roll, it can be choked on." If a large toy has any permanently affixed small components, also be sure that they are attached properly. Toys with smaller parts can be great for the development of older children, but make sure that those toys are accessible to younger kiddos.
Did you know that the age levels on toys are determined solely by safety measures? They aren't indicators of intelligence or maturity levels. This is a VERY important thing to keep in mind. Even parents, guardians, or caregivers of children who seem a bit more advanced compared to other children of the same age should NOT buy toys meant for older kids.
Does the toy work properly? Are all the pieces in place? Is anything cracked, splintered, broken, or peeling off? How am I supposed to use it properly? ALL are essential questions to note before getting a toy for a kiddo. Two major reasons so many children are being injured by toys are both the toy being damaged and the toy being used improperly. Pay attention to weight restrictions, care instructions, and other information given on the toy's packaging or manual.
Another HUGE contributor to toy injuries and fatalities is becoming trapped or entangled. Those buying gifts for kiddos should keep an eye on the type of packaging used for the toy and encourage those receiving the toy to discard packaging immediately. If toys have lids, thick fabrics, ties, straps, or strings children should be monitored during play to ensure their safety. Parents, guardians, and caregivers should pay special attention to toys like balloons, magnets, and stuffed animals. The placement of toys is also important with regard to this step--particularly when it comes to crib toys. According to Healthy Children, soft objects, loose bedding, or any objects that could increase the risk of entrapment, suffocation, or strangulation should be kept out of the crib. Any hanging crib toy (mobiles, crib gyms) should be out of your baby's reach and must be removed when your baby first begins to push up on their hands and knees, or when the baby is 5 months old—whichever comes first. These toys can strangle a baby.
Warning labels on toys and games aren't the only labels to keep an eye out for. In order for toys to market to consumers that they have met certain standards for safety, they have to go through rigorous testing. Toys that have gone through this process will display certain labels. Look for the following labels on your toys:
An "American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)" label.
ASTM F963 means the toy has gone through various test methods for choking, sharp edges, and other potential hazards.
ASTM D4236 is on art toys and means that art materials have been reviewed by a toxicologist.
Electric toys should be "UL Certified" as that means they are tested for mechanical use and abuse, flammability, and chemical testing for lead and other heavy metals.
If you are purchasing second-hand toys or receiving hand-me-down toys, it is important to also keep an eye on toy recalls as older toys may not meet current safety standards. To provide better service in alerting the American people to unsafe, hazardous, or defective products, six federal agencies with vastly different jurisdictions have joined together to create recalls.gov, a "one-stop-shop" for U.S. Government recalls. On this site, you can sign-up for email alerts on recalls, read more about the latest recalls, report dangerous products, and learn safety tips. You can also call the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission hotline at (800) 638-CPSC to report a toy you think is unsafe.
Plug-in, charged, or battery-powered toys should be given special consideration and monitoring. The risk of electrocution and strangulation is high if children remain unsupervised when using toys that require charging or with toys that are plugged in. The risk of choking or ingesting dangerous substances is high when children use toys where batteries aren't properly secured (i.e. behind a panel that requires screws).
Keeping kids from putting random things in their mouths seems like a constant cat and mouse game sometimes, but it's actually an important developmental step for kiddos that helps with their sensory motor development. From this, they learn more about an object, such as how big it is, how hard or soft it is, and its shape. That being said, you want to be sure that toys that look, smell, or even are intended to go in the mouth are 100% safe for kiddos. Making sure the toy and all components are made of "non-toxic" materials will help if something happens to be ingested. Crayons, scented markers, playdough, slime, Orbeez... the list of common "in the mouth" toys for kids goes on and on. They WILL explore, so just be cognizant of the ingredients. Another thing to consider is the consistency of the toy--particularly if it's meant to be chewed on like a teether. Be sure it has some give and isn't going to chip a tooth or damage your child's gums. Also, be sure NOT to purchase fluid-filled teethers as many contain harmful preservative chemicals that may spill into a child's mouth if broken. When a chewable or teething toy is given, don't freeze it. If your kiddo wants to chew on something cool, place a clean and safe teething toy in the refrigerator briefly or in cold water.
There you have it, SAFE-TEE! We know that was a bit in-depth, so we developed this wallet-sized, printable SAFE-TEE card for you to take with you!
If your kiddo has a gift list, include this list too to help those purchasing gifts know how to keep your kiddos safe. Share this article too to help us get the word out on toy buying safety so that all kiddos stay safe this gift-giving season!