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Holiday Toy Shopping: 5 Tips from a Safety Expert

Toy Shopping Safety: Five tips from a safety expert to prevent an ER visit this holiday!
By Anu Panchal

Toy SafetyAs adults, we know that the true meaning of the holidays is family togetherness and a deeper spiritual connection—but try and tell that to the 5-year-old who’s been agonizing over her list. For little ones, there’s undeniable magic in finding a wondrous toy under the tree. And for many parents, the secret hunt for the ideal toy is as much part of the festive season as holiday cards and family fun. However, the truth is that not all toys are made equal. According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 251,000 children were taken to emergency rooms in 2014 for toy-related injuries. Most of these were lacerations, contusions or abrasions, and most of the injuries were also to the face and head area.

No one wants to spend precious holiday hours stuck in the ER—so keep these handy tips from Pediatric Wellness and Safety Expert Rebecca Layton of St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in mind when shopping for little ones to ensure that their December is as safe as it is fun.

Pick the right toy for the child’s age and developmental ability. Those “For Age” labels on the toy? They’re there for a reason. Make sure you choose something that is within your child’s age range, even if it may seem babyish and you feel your child could play with something more advanced. On the other hand, a toy may fit your child’s age, but may be too hard to play with, leading to frustration or injury. “Sometimes a child may fit the age requirement but developmentally may not be able to use the toy,” says Layton. “Look at the details and think about the child you are shopping for.” Layton also advises parents to read all the instructions and labels before leaving the store.

Toy Safety Toilet Paper RollWhen you’re buying for children under 3, make sure the toy has no pieces small enough to fit in a toilet paper roll (anything smaller than 1.5 inches). Barbie shoes, Lego pieces, coins, marbles and little bouncy balls may be potential choking hazards. If you’re buying for an infant, make sure you pick something that can easily be cleaned off—especially if you have a little teether in the house.

Toy Safety Bike HelmetBuy a helmet with a riding toy. “If you are planning to surprise your child with a new bike, skateboard, scooter or other riding equipment, be sure to include a certified helmet to keep them safe while they are having fun riding their new toy,” Layton says. Safe Kids USA states that more children ages 5 to 14 are seen in emergency rooms for biking-related injuries than any other sport. Although helmets can reduce the risk of severe brain injuries by 88 percent, only 45 percent of children 14 and under usually wear a bike helmet, even though it is the law in Florida to wear one if you’re 16 or younger.

Layton recommends wearing helmets for all wheeled activities, including skateboarding and scooters. And though it may be tempting to buy a larger size that the child can “grow into,” Layton advises against that. Proper fit is crucial in protecting young heads and the brains inside.

Avoid small parts, strings, sharp edges and balloons that can lurk in surprising places. Even an innocuous teddy bear can pose a hazard if it has an unsecured ribbon around its neck that a child can slip off, or small button eyes or nose that can be pried off by insistent little fingers. Flying toy parts can smack a child in the eye. Don’t buy toys for little ones that have ribbons or strings longer than 7 inches. Most of all, beware of small batteries.

“If the toy has high powered magnets or batteries, be sure that they are secured within the toy,” says Layton. “If magnets or batteries are ingested, serious injuries may occur. Battery buttons can become lodged in the child’s throat. It can cause chemical burns and potentially internal damage. If your child swallows a battery button or battery of any size, call your local poison control center (800-222- 1222).”

Another hazard? The toy’s plastic wrapping: Dispose of this immediately.

Sign up to receive product safety recalls at or Keep track and get rid of or replace toys that have been recalled. You can also go on the Consumer Product Safety website and check on any used toys you may have bought to ensure they have all the needed parts.

Store toys after playing with them. Keep bins or other storage options handy so children can put away their toys when they’re done playing. Older kids should especially be taught to do this so younger siblings don’t crawl over and pop a little toy piece in their mouth and choke. Also, monitor toys regularly and make sure to throw away anything broken or ripped.

Most of all, Layton would like to see parents spend their time choosing toys that encourage physical activity, imaginative play and early reading rather than picking up something pretty that’s battery operated. Always remember, says Layton: “There’s no substitution for adult supervision.”


Additional safety information:

Trouble in Toyland 2016 Annual Report, released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s 2016 Holiday Shopping Guide 

Originally published in the December 2016 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.

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