Toy Safety: Avoiding the ER

Susan Schmunk, CSTR, CAISS

While Christmas is past for another year, the time to think about toy safety continues. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, 188,400 children under the age of 15 years were seen in emergency departments for toy-related injuries in 2011. That is 516 kids every day with more than a third of those being children 5 and under. Here are a few well-intended tips for finding the toy appropriate for the child you have in mind:

  • Take the time to pick the toy appropriate for your child’s age and abilities. Read instructions and warning labels to make sure it is right for the child.
  • Check to make sure there aren’t any small parts or other potential choking hazards.
  • When buying toys for older children bear in mind the possibility of younger children being present and the small game pieces that may be a choking hazard for younger siblings.
  • After play time is over, use a bin or container to store toys for next time. Make sure that there are no holes or hinges that could catch little fingers.
  • Regularly check your child’s toys for any parts that have become loose and therefore pose a choking hazard.
  • Follow age restrictions and all other toy manufacturer warnings.
  • Limit riding toys to dry, flat surfaces away from roads with vehicular traffic.
  • Closely supervise children under age 8 when on a riding toy.
  • Make sure kids wear helmets, kneepads and elbow pads on all riding toys, including bikes.
  • Regularly check the U.S. government’s to see if any toys that you’ve bought or are about to buy have been recalled.
  • One simple way to see if a toy is a choking hazard is to check if it will fit through a toilet paper tube. If it does, it’s not safe for children younger than 3.

Some items you may not have in mind when picking a toy or a card include, does the item contain a button battery? These can be easily swallowed. Some may be concealed while others are readily accessible. Latex balloons, although festive, are also a common cause of choking in children. Small magnets that may be a part of a toy can be a threat. If two or more are swallowed, they can be attracted to each other through intestinal walls, causing a hole, blockage or infection. Check that toys don’t contain toxic chemicals. For instance, check for phthalates. They are widely used in plastics. Chemicals in the paint of older toys can also pose a threat.

Parents should inspect any gifts their children receive first and remove all tags, strings and ribbons that could lead to choking or strangulation. Parents should also read toys’ labels and instructions so they know it’s appropriate for their child and they can show their child how to use it safely.

There are more helpful safety tips at to help you with your child related gift giving.