While the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) closely monitors and regulates the manufacturing of toys, there are certainly some general guidelines that as the responsible adult you should keep in mind when toy-shopping:
- Toys made of fabric should be labeled as flame resistant or flame retardant.
- Stuffed toys should be washable.
- Painted toys should be covered with lead-free paint.
- Art materials should say non-toxic.
- Crayons and paints should state ASTM D-4236 on the package, which notes that they have been evaluated by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
If possible, steer clear of older toys – while these toys may have sentimental value and are cost-effective, they may not meet current safety standards and could be worn out from play, therefore breaking down and becoming hazardous to your child.
By reading the label on a toy, you may be able to tell if the toy is appropriate for your child’s age. While guidelines published by the CPSC and other groups can help influence your buying decisions, your own best judgment is probably the most important factor in buying a new toy. By considering your child’s temperament, habits and behavior you will know best what will be appropriate and safe for your child. Sometimes you may think that if your child is advanced in comparison to his or her peers means that he or she could handle a toy meant for an older kid – take note – the age levels on toys are determined by safety factors, not your child’s intelligence or maturity. Following are some age-specific guidelines to keep in mind:
Infants, Toddlers, and Pre-Schoolers
- Toys should be sturdy enough to withstand pulling and twisting. Make sure that eyes, noses, buttons and other parts are securely fastened.
- Make sure that rattles, teethers and other squeeze toys are large enough that they won’t become lodged in your child’s mouth or throat.
- Avoid toys with long strings or cords that could present strangulation hazards.
- Avoid thin plastic toys that could break into small pieces and leave jagged edges.
- Avoid any balls, coins, marbles or games with balls that are 1.75 inches in diameter or less because they can present choking hazards.
Since choking is one of the biggest risks early in your child’s life, you might want to consider purchasing a choke tube – these tubes are designed to be about the same diameter as a child’s windpipe – if an object fits in the tube, then it’s too small for your young child.
- Bicycles, scooters, skateboards and skates should always be used with helmets that meet safety standards, as well as other recommended safety gear such as hand, knee, wrist and shin guards.
- Toy darts or arrows should have soft tips or suction cups, not hard points.
- Toy guns should appear different from real weapons (bright colors). Kids should be taught that they never point guns, darts or arrows at anyone at anytime.
After you have bought safe toys for your child, it’s important to also be sure that your kids know how to use them. The best way to do this is to read directions with your kids, supervise their play and play with them to teach them how to play safely while having fun. In addition, parents should do the following:
- Teach kids to put toys away where they belong.
- Check toys regularly to ensure they are not broken or unusable.
- Wood toys should not have splinters.
- Bikes and other outdoor toys should not have rust.
- Stuffed toys should not have broken seams or any parts falling off.
- Throw away broken toys or repair them immediately.
- Store outdoor toys when they’re not in use so that they are not exposed to rain, snow or direct sunlight.
- Keep toys clean – some toys can even be cleaned in the dishwasher, but be sure to read the manufacturer’s directions first.
Be sure to check the CPSC website for the latest information about recalls, or sign up for their toy recall email alerts. Of course, if you have any doubt about a toy’s safety, always err on the side of caution and do not buy it or allow your child to play with it.