Blocks, puzzles, ride-on dump trucks, bouncy balls, dollies…toys are fun! And they’re an integral part of a child’s development. Kids need play, just like plants need water and sunshine! But at times, toys can prove to be dangerous. In fact, roughly 198,000 children under 14 were seen in emergency departments for toy-related injuries in 2020, with 40% of those kiddos being 4 years old or younger. Here, everything you need to know about making sure babies and big kids have oodles of fun playing with their toys—safely!

Toys Safety Must: Follow age requirements.

Age requirements on toys are not merely nice suggestion. Instead, they're there to ensure your child’s toys are developmentally appropriate for their age (buying toys geared toward older kiddos leads to frustration) and safe. That means, for instance, toys labeled for children under 18 months will be void of dangerous strings, straps, or cords longer than twelve inches. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, age recommendations on toys…

  • Inform you how safe the toy is. For example, if there are any possible choking hazards.

  • Clue you into whether your little one will be able to understand how to play with the toy.

  •  Help you match a toy to your child’s stage of development, needs, and interests.

For help selected the right toys for the kiddos in your life, check out our age-by-age toy guides. These are the best toys for…

Toy Safety Must: Avoid most crib toys.

Got a baby under a year old? There should be no (as in zero) soft objects in their sleep space, which includes crib gyms and stuffed toys. Any toy or objects that may increase your little one’s risk of entrapment, suffocation, or strangulation should be kept out of the crib. As far as baby mobiles go, those are safe…as long as they are out of your baby’s reach and removed from their sleep space once your baby is either 5 months old or begins to push up on their hands and knees. (More products to keep out of your baby’s crib.)

Toys Safety Must: Look for non-toxic toys. 

A 2021 report in the journal Environment International finds that a quarter of all children’s toys contain harmful chemicals. Yikes! But since most plastic toys aren’t labeled with the chemicals they contain, it makes picking the safest toy trickier. To help, here are some general safe-shopping guidelines that’ll help you select toys that are made with the safest materials.

  • Try to select toys made of natural materials, like cotton, wool, and uncoated wood.

  • Fabric toys should be washable.

  • Avoid vintage or hand-me-down wooden toys with chipped paint that may contain lead.

  • Paints, crayons, markers, and other art supplies should be labeled “non-toxic.” (Materials marked with the designation ASTM D-4236 means the product was reviewed by a toxicologist.)

  • When going plastic, choose toys labeled phthalate-free, PVC-free, and BPA-free.

  • Avoid toys that features the recycling codes #3, #6, or #7. (Recycling codes are typically found on the bottom of the product.)

  • Steer clear of soft plastic toys, like rubber duckies. A recent study found that softer plastic toys cause higher exposure to harmful chemicals than hard toys.

Toys Safety Must: Check for choking hazards.

Following age requirements for your child’s toys will sidestep many choking risks. But it’s important to do more than that. Here are some smart rules to follow to avoid toys that are choking hazards:

  • Keep baby and big kid toys separated. You don’t want to accidentally introduce a choking hazard to your little one. (Find toy storage solutions.)

  • All toys need to be larger than your child’s mouth. (Unsure? If the toy fits inside a toilet paper tube, it’s too small for a young child to play with.)

  • Make sure toys are well-made with no small parts, like buttons, snaps, or teddy bear eyes.

  • Keep bean bag chairs or toys that contain small foam pellets away from small children. If the chair rips, a little one could inhale and choke on the small pellets.

  • Remove any loose ribbons or strings from toys.

  • Battery cases in battery-operated toys need to be securely closed to avoid choking, internal bleeding, and chemical burns. (Small button or lithium coin batteries ​are the most dangerous.)

  • Young children should not play with toys that contain magnets. Not only can they be choking hazards, if your child swallows two or more magnets, they can stick together inside your child’s body causing grave injury. (What to do if your child swallows a toy.)

  • Know that uninflated and broken balloons are choking hazards, too.

  • Stuffed animals and toys sold or won at carnivals, fairs, and in vending machines are not required to meet safety standards! Carefully check these toys for loose parts and sharp edges before allowing your baby to play with them.

  • Skip “water beads.” This sensory bin staple resembles colorful candy that your little one might be tempted to mouth—but if ingested, they can grow many sizes, potentially obstructing the intestines!

[ Learn more about choking prevention and how to help a choking child. ]

Toys Safety Must: Evaluate the toy stash.

Buying safe toys is one thing. Ensuring the toys remain safe is another! To do just that, follow this stay-safe advice:

  • Supervise your little one’s play!

  • Put toys away after playtime is over…and teach kids to do the same.

  • Regularly check wooden toys for splinters and chipped paint.

  • Periodically check stuffed toys for broken seams, loose parts, and exposed removable parts.

  • Throw out or repair any toys that are broken.

  • Make sure bikes, trikes, and other outdoor toys are rust-free.

  • Wash soiled toys. In a spray bottle, mix mild dishwashing detergent and hot water to clean toys. Rinse afterward.

Toys Safety Must: Avoid counterfeit toys.

It can be very tempting to buy this season’s hottest, hard-to-get toy from a rando online retailer or from a third-party seller, but if the deal and your luck seems too good to be true, it probably is. While your bub might not know the difference between the real deal or a copycat toy, here’s why you should care: Legitimate toys must comply with 100+ safety standards in order to make it to retailers. But counterfeit or knock-off toys are very unlikely to comply with strict toy safety laws. To help ensure you’re getting a legit toy…

  • Buy from a brand or seller you’re familiar with.

  • Be aware that third-party sellers on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, might be selling counterfeits.

  • If you’ve already bought a toy, inspect it carefully. Does it feel cheap or flimsy? Is the packaging damaged? Return it and report the seller.

  • If you suspect the product is a counterfeit, contact your credit card company for a refund.

Toys Safety Must: Check for recalls.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has lots of rules and guidelines to ensure toys are safe. So, if a toy is suddenly found to be unsafe, CPSC issues a recall to make sure those dangerous toys come off the store shelves. However, a recent report found that the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) was actually able to buy numerous recalled toys from several American-based online sellers, like Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and other online merchants, even though it’s illegal for retailers to sell recalled toys. To be on top of the latest recalls, sign up for CPSC recall alerts. And if a toy in your possession has been recalled, it should be discarded right away.

 

More on Play and Toys:

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REFERENCES

  • S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: Toy-Related Deaths and Injuries Calendar Year 2020
  • Nemours Children’s Health, KidsHealth: Choosing Safe Toys for Toddlers and Preschoolers
  • American Academy of Pediatrics: How to Buy Safe Toys
  • Chemicals of concern in plastic toys. Environment International. January 2021.
  • UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh: Toy Safety
  • Seattle Children’s Hospital: Toy Safety
  • Stanford Medicine Children’s Health: Toy Safety—Prevention
  • The Toy Association: Q&A with The Toy Safety Mom, Joan Lawrence
  • S. Pirg Education Fund: Trouble in Toyland 2022
  • American Academy of Pediatrics News: Water-Absorbing Beads Can Be Harmful If Swallowed, Put in Ear

 

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.