A puzzle or a Hot Wheels car may not seem like a dangerous toy to give a child, but one loose wheel or one small puzzle piece could be a choking hazard, especially to infants and toddlers. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 240,000 children under the age of 15 were treated for toy-related injuries in 2016, and an average of about 86,000 children treated for toy-related injuries each year are younger than 5.
Tedra Smith, DNP, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing and a pediatric nurse practitioner at Children’s of Alabama, says injuries to young children are easily preventable if parents pay attention to the recommended age and warning labels on toy packaging.
“Although holiday time is usually a fun time of year filled with family activities and overly excited children and adults, it is important to consider kids’ ages and the types of toys we purchase to prevent toy-related accidents,” Smith said.
The first place to look before purchasing or letting your child play with a toy is the age range printed on the package.
“Be a label reader. Look for and follow age recommendations, such as ‘not recommended for children under 3,’” Smith said. “Toys intended for young children should be free of small parts that could cause choking. If you have older children who have toys with small parts, make sure those items are kept out of reach of younger children.”
Parents should carefully read and follow the assembly instructions and look over the toy for any potential hazards such as small removable parts that could be a choking hazard. If the toy makes noise, look over the secured battery storage area to ensure it is closed and could not be opened by a child.
Toys with long strings or cords are also dangerous for infants and young children.
“The cords can become wrapped around an infant’s neck, causing strangulation,” Smith said. “The same could happen with ribbon you use for wrapping gifts or the string on balloons.”
Other toys to avoid for young children include anything with a screen.
“Screens are almost never a good thing to introduce to young children, including cellphones and tablets,” said Candice Dye, M.D., a pediatrician in the School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics at UAB. “Give them books instead, and engage with them by showing them the pictures and reading to them every day."
Storing the toy and discarding the packaging once it is opened are just as important as examining the toy before it giving to a child.
“Once your child is done playing with the toy, make sure you put it up in a container that is closed and kept out of reach of small hands,” Smith explained. “If it is a gift, throw away or recycle all of the packaging after the child opens the gift to keep.”
For older children who may be riding a bike or using a scooter or rollerblades, make sure they are wearing appropriate safety equipment like a helmet and knee pads.
And for the gifts that are inappropriate based on your child’s age, it is OK to explain to the gift giver why the child will have to wait to play with it.
“Toys are purchased because the buyer wants to celebrate and bring joy to the child. Ultimately, it is the thought that counts,” Smith said. “Make it a learning experience for everyone, and explain to the giver that you appreciate the gesture, but there are hazards related to the toy due to the child’s age and you will save it for your child to play with when they are older.”