Whether you’re celebrating your daughter’s first birthday or Christmas shopping for a 3 year old, toys are one of the most popular gifts for infants, babies, toddlers, and young children. With annual lists of the ‘next best thing’ and technology’s increasing role in enhancing the types of toys available on today’s market, advancements have produced some pretty sophisticated options. Unfortunately, some of the coolest toys can also pose health risks and hazards that can endanger the welfare of a child.
Every year, hundreds of toys and games are recalled due to choking hazards, high lead levels, and other serious health and safety risks. The following guide is just a starting point to help you become more aware of safety issues to consider when gift-shopping for a child.
Common Gift and Toy Hazards for Kids
There are an estimated more than 260,000 children who pay a visit to an emergency room each year because of a toy-related injury or mishap. To make sure your well-meaning gifts do not contribute to these statistics, review some of the following hazards associated with kid’s gifts:
One of the most well-known hazards related to children’s gifts are stuffed animals made with glass and plastic features, such as teddy bear eyes, noses and buttons.
When shopping for kids (especially under the age of 3), seek toy parts that are bigger than a child’s mouth to prevent a choking hazard. A good test is to use a toilet paper roll. If a toy or a part can fit inside of the cylinder, then it is not safe.
Basically, stay away from gifts where a young child can inhale, swallow or choke on any of its parts, such as tiny balls, marbles, and puzzle pieces.
For example, Monster Science and Super Star Science Colossal Water Balls were recalled in June 2013 for including parts that could be easily mistaken for candy by a child. When ingested, the marble-sized toy can expand inside of a child’s body and cause an obstruction in the intestines.
Items that Can Cause Suffocation
Some kid’s toys and gifts pose a risk of suffocation, and aren’t always easy to identify. For example, although a bean bag chair makes a fun, comfortable addition to a child’s room, those made with zippers and foam pellets can lead to suffocation and choking. We’ve all probably seen a bean bag chair that has seen better days…usually with stuffing and pellets leaking out. Children who ingest and inhale these materials can suffer clogged noses and mouths, making it difficult to breathe.
The same caution should be used when purchasing large stuffed animals (similar to the ones won at a state fair) – where many contain the same pellets and beaded foam that create a health hazard for young children.
Lead poisoning can cause irreversible brain damage and delayed mental and physical growth in children. Products designed for children 12 years or younger must meet guidelines to ensure their safety, which include lead limits of 90 parts per million (ppm) lead in painted items or those with a coated surface, such as painted furniture.
The threat of lead poisoning is also found in toys, kid’s clothing, jewelry (especially costume jewelry), blankets, strollers, footwear, and even books.
A few items to research before purchasing include: metal jewelry; books with metal spiral bindings; painted toys; artist paint sets; action figures; and bicycles.
Items Made with Phthalates
Used to make vinyl and other plastic items soft and flexible, phthalates belong to a group of chemicals that pose health concerns for children. While Congress permanently banned three types of phthalates (DEHP, DBP, and BBP) and restricts the use of others, it’s a good idea to investigate the materials used to make gifts, especially inflatable pool toys, bath toys, beach balls, and some dolls. Also, opt for unpainted wooden or cloth toys to avoid chemicals found in PVC plastic and similar materials.
Batteries & Burn Hazards
In addition to the hazards that the average battery may cause, button batteries found in small electronics and other educational devices should be monitored. Purchase gifts that have mechanisms in place to keep children from coming in contact with batteries, such as covers that must be screwed off using a tiny or specialized tool. If swallowed, a child can suffer from fatal internal injuries from the battery acid.
Batteries can also pose burn risks from malfunctioning parts.
For example, the Giggles International Animated Monkey Toy shown above was recalled in December 2014 because the battery compartment had the potential to reach temperatures of up to 230 degrees Fahrenheit. Reports of toys overheating and actually melting their battery compartments had been made.
Toys with Strings and Cords
Some toys create a risk for strangulation when they are made with strings and cords measuring longer than 12 inches – like a play kitchen or telephone where handles are attached to potentially dangerous cords. Also, use caution when gifting mobiles and clothing with drawstrings.
Toys with Small Magnets
Small magnets in toys have the potential to fall out and be swallowed by a curious child. Incidents involving magnets have sent kids to the hospital, and have even resulted in surgery. Swallowing two or more magnets (or a magnet and a metal object) can actually cause discomfort in the intestinal walls, as the attraction between objects can cause blockages, holes, and infection if not discovered in time.
Be on the lookout for small magnets hidden in dolls, action figures, puzzles, construction sets, as well as used to hold together kiddie jewelry.
Sometimes, a toy or game will pose multiple health and safety hazards.
For example, in May 2014, Discount School Supply Magnetic Color Sorting Boards were recalled for posing serious choking and internal injury risks from possible ingestion of magnet and metal balls. The plywood backing can crack, allowing small metal balls to fall out. The magnet can detach from wand. The paint on the metal balls also contained levels of lead that exceeded federal lead paint standards.
A Few Other Things to Think About when Shopping for Kid’s Gifts…
Whether it’s gifting a safety helmet alongside a brand new Huffy, or reading packages for any product warnings, the following tips can also help you select safe gifts for kids:
Follow Age-Appropriate Suggestions: Serving as a guideline for choosing the proper gift that meets the abilities and maturity level of a child, there’s a reason why games and toys come with a “recommended age” sticker or notice.
Check Product Recall Lists: To stay informed on the latest malfunctions, choking hazards and unsafe toys, don’t forget to check recall lists before gift-shopping for a young child. This is where you learn about the issues other consumers have had with a particular toy, before you purchase.
Online resources to note include:
SaverProducts.gov – Monitors the safety of products with a searchable database that includes kids toys, baby products, toys, and items that contain metals.
Recalls.gov – Managed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, this wide-ranging, searchable database highlights past and recent recalls related to consumer purchases, as well as many other areas of interest.
Toys ‘R’ Us Product Recall List – The popular chain maintains an ongoing list of products that have been recently recalled.
Parents.com Product Recall Finder for Toys & Games – Showcases important information regarding the latest toy and game recalls from the likes of Mattel, Fisher-Price, Playskool, Lego, Hasbro, and Disney.
Safe Kids Worldwide – This organization highlights the latest product recalls in chronological order; consumers can also sign up to receive recall alerts by email.
And, when you find safe, age-appropriate toys…don’t forget to add them to a PickUrGift list for the young gift recipients in your life. We also offer options for you to easily share your safe gift finds with other parents and family members.