Toy-Related Safety

Now, with the turkey and the pumpkin pie gone, children turn their holiday attention to what they think matters most – toys! As you glance over their wish lists, how do you know what toys are safest?


With nearly 500 children treated in emergency rooms for toy-related injuries every day, it’s important to ask yourself these questions: Is the toy age-appropriate? Are there small parts? Is it still in good condition? Are there sharp edges or chipping paint?


Common sense goes a long way. Anyone who has ever handed an infant or toddler a toy knows it inevitably ends up in the child’s mouth. Chewing on toys is normal, but it also increases the risk of dangerous exposure to toxins, such as lead, phthalate and cadmium, a heavy metal currently used to make children’s jewelry. Exposure to these substances over time can lead to future health problems.  


Choking hazards from small parts, balls and balloons also continue to be a leading cause of toy- related deaths and injuries. Small projectiles can easily become choking hazards, cause eye injuries or, if left out, can cause someone to trip. Toys might have small parts that can break off or weaken with use. If a piece falls off, these small parts pose a choking hazard or a risk of injury from sharp edges. Help older siblings learn about responsibility by teaching them to put away their toys and keep them out of reach of younger children.


A game or toy that’s appropriate for a 6-year-old might not be safe for a 3-year-old.  The age recommendation on a toy’s packaging reflects the average maturity level and physical capabilities of a child that age; but there’s a lot of variation within that. Parents know their children best. Pay attention to the specific interests and needs of your child. What are their physical capabilities?  Are they able to follow the rules of a game?  Do they have the gross or fine motor skills to play with the toys and stay safe? Most importantly, are they able to use the toy in the way it was intended? When a child first plays with a new toy, it’s really important that parents monitor how their child plays with it. 


Many parents wonder whether a child is physically ready for a toy, such as a scooter or bicycle. A child should have both the gross and fine motor skills to be able to control what they are riding, as well as have the awareness of other people and their environment. Wheeled or riding toys, in particular, can be a risk if the child has a tendency to not pay attention to their surroundings. In addition, it can’t be stressed enough that a child should be responsible enough to remember to put their helmet on every time! 


With thousands of toys on store shelves this holiday season, there are plenty that are safe and fun for the children in your life. Doing some homework before you make your purchases will help keep them injury-free.  

Maria McMahon is trauma center manager for Boston Children’s Hospital Injury Prevention Program, 617-355-7332.

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24 Nov 2014

By Maria McMahon