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Make Sure You’re Gifting Safe Toys

Make Sure You’re Gifting Safe, Age-Appropriate Toys

By Leah Campbell 

In 2017, hospital emergency rooms in the United States treated more than 250,000 toy-related injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Lacerations, contusions, and abrasions made up 38% of those injuries, and 44% of the total injuries were to the head or face of the children being treated. 

There is no greater joy than the way a child’s face lights up when presented with a new toy. But when those toys don’t follow basic safety standards, or when they are given to children too young to play with them appropriately—they can pose a very real risk. And with the holidays right around the corner, it’s more important than ever for shoppers to be aware of what constitutes as safe giving for the children in their lives. 

That’s why Prevent Blindness America, the nation’s oldest non-profit eye health and safety group, declared December as Safe Toys and Gifts Month. Every year, the group offers toy-buying and gift-giving tips to anyone planning to purchase for a child. 

“For children 3 years old and younger, there is a specific focus on safe gifting,” says Adina Mahalli, MSW, family care specialist at Maple Holistics. “This young population has an increased risk of choking since these youngsters typically put whatever they see in their tiny mouths.”

It doesn’t matter how vigilant you think you are. “You may be watching your little one like a hawk,” Mahalli explains. “All it takes is a split second for them to sneak something in their mouth without you looking.”

When gifting to children in those early years, she suggests some basic safety guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Look for toys made from flame-resistant or -retardant materials

  • Ensure any paint on the toys you purchase is lead-free

  • Check that all art materials are labeled nontoxic

And when buying crayons and paint, she says, “Make sure to find ‘ASTM D-4236’ on the package, ensuring that the American Society for Testing and Materials evaluated the product and considers it safe.”

Board-certified pediatrician Syeda Amna Husain, MD, founder of Pure Direct Pediatrics, had some additional insight to provide. “My biggest concerns are toys containing button batteries or magnets,” she explains, as children can face serious gastrointestinal system risks if they swallow these.

You may think you’d never buy anything with those tiny hazards, but they come in more items than you might realize, including:

  • Musical greeting cards

  • Remote controls

  • Small electronics

  • Musical books

  • Building toy sets


Dr. Husain also advises gift buyers, “Be cautious of toys you see labeled as educational. In reality, tablets, computer games, and apps at this age aren’t really educational even if they promote targeting memory skills for the alphabet, numbers, and shapes.”

The best way to learn these skills, she explained, is through “unstructured and social play with family and friends.” And she added, “The best toys are those that support parents and children playing and interacting together.”

Both experts placed an emphasis on choosing developmentally appropriate toys for kids, regardless of their age. And when kids get to school-age, Husain recommended “toys that teach problem-solving skills but also promote fine motor skills. Good examples would be coloring books, art and craft kids, and even traditional board games.”

Of course, most gift buyers have the best of intentions. But for people who don’t have children themselves, it can sometimes be especially difficult to pick out age-appropriate toys. Mahalli recommends taking the opportunity to guide friends and family members in the right gift-giving direction with the holidays approaching, especially when they specifically ask what presents your child might like. “Although you may feel uncomfortable when responding, the gift-giver will appreciate your input, as they often have no idea where to start.”

If you want to be really proactive, she says, “You can even think ahead and create a safe toy list, so when you’re put on the spot, you can go to your toy reserve lineup.”

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