As a pediatrician, I see all sorts of injuries involving toys—swallowing part of a toy, getting a piece lodged in a nostril or ear, falling on toys or getting hit by one used as a projectile. But by far, choking on toys is one of the biggest concerns for small children.
The good news is most toys have suggestions for appropriate age ranges on the packaging. These are useful guidelines for the safety of your child. The tricky part comes when you have children of different ages in the same house. Six-year-old Billy’s Legos will probably be viewed as a food group by 18-month-old Johnny. Waiting for a Lego to show up in a dirty diaper can be nerve-wracking, but seeing it stuck in his windpipe can be tragic.
When buying toys for infants, make sure they don’t have strings that they can wrap around their neck. If a toy recommends protective gear (e.g., goggles, pads, helmets, gloves, etc.), purchase them. They’re always cheaper than an emergency room co-pay. Raise your children to use helmets when they’re riding bikes, scooters, skateboards or using rollerblades. Hopefully, it’ll become a habit for them, and when they see Jane down the block not wearing one, they’ll think she’s foolhardy instead of lucky.
Look for toys that are fun, educational and age-appropriate. That goes all the way from soft toys for kids who stick everything in their mouth to video games that don’t encourage violence for older kids. For children with developmental delays, they’ll do better with toys appropriate for the age at which they function rather than their chronological age.
Imagination is also not a bad thing. One mother gave her child a large box full of wrapped smaller boxes. Her child spent the whole day unwrapping them, crawling in them, stacking them and playing in the wrapping. She said it was the best toy he got that year.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a website about toy safety and recalled toys, and you can even subscribe to get recalls emailed to you. The American Academy of Pediatrics also has suggestions on toy safety and how to buy them. You can also purchase a choke test cylinder at toy stores or online to see if a toy is a choking hazard for a child younger than three years old.
You can’t protect your child from everything, but you can help minimize the risks. Always remember your child could find a way to hurt himself or herself or someone else with anything you give them, but if it looks more fun and safe than dangerous, I’d go for it. Some of our best memories come from our favorite toys. Toys can be safe, challenging, educational, healthy and promote exercise, but they’ll only be used if they’re fun.