December marks the annual safe toys and gifts month – fittingly, as surely ’tis the season for giving and receiving.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking hey, it’s a toy; it must be safe! But while toys are closely regulated, and while toys are designed with kiddos in mind, that doesn’t mean they’re universally safe. There are recalls. There are loose parts. There are long strings. There are many potential safety issues, which are compounded when people don’t follow age recommendations. (For example, giving a 2-year-old a toy marked 4+.)
But relax. There’s plenty you can do, before and after unwrapping, to ensure all the little ones you love are safe. Read on for tips on choosing (and checking for) safe toys and gifts this holiday season:
Use Your Eyes
The simplest test is to look at a toy. Does it have sharp corners; is it pointed; does it have long strings that could wrap around a little neck? (Tip: 7 inches is the absolute longest length for a safe toy.)
Get Out Your Measuring Tape
One of the biggest safety concerns is choking. Toys for the youngest crowd (generally, infants through preschoolers) should be large enough that they’ll be impossible to swallow. If you’re buying many gifts, consider getting a small-parts tester (essentially, a tube to mimic a small child’s windpipe); otherwise, check that even the smallest parts measure more than 1.25″ wide and 2.25″ long.
Check Age Recommendations
It’s tempting to buy gifts based on a child’s interests, despite marked age recommendations. But often, the age suggestion is not determined by development but by safety; universal interest toys marketed for older ages usually have small parts that pose choking hazards, or other dangers to little ones.
Beware of Fire Hazard
Toys with electrical elements or fabric should be carefully labeled regarding fire hazard. Fabrics should be marked as flame retardant, while electrical toys will have plugin recommendations. Additionally, electrical toys with heating elements are appropriate only for ages 8+.
Check for Lead
You’d think lead-paint problems were in the past, but unfortunately they’re not. At least, not entirely. Err on the safe side, and only purchase painted toys specifically labeled as lead free.
Check for Toxicity
Speaking of lead, that’s not the only toxic concern: kids put toys in their mouths all the time. For any art supplies, or really any toy for the under-5 crowd, double-check that it’s labeled as non-toxic.
Listen to a Toy
Toys that make noise can be fun – said no parent ever. But if you’re really going down that rabbit hole, test out the sound first. Some toys can make noise as loud as a car’s horn; put to a child’s ear (and kids are wont to do), these noisemakers can cause permanent hearing damage.
Double–check Safety Standards
Most toys are labeled as passing their relative safety standards. For example, the above-mentioned electronics should always be labeled UL, which indicates they meet the standards set by Underwriters Laboratories. Bikes, scooters and similar toys, plus their safety gear, are usually certified by the CPSC or Snell.
Generosity is a wonderful thing. This year, give as best you can but please, always give safely. Happy holidays!