You would never give your young child a loaded gun to play with. You would never hand him a book of matches and a bunch of gasoline-soaked rags. You would never give him a full bottle of prescription sedatives to carry around, even if it had a child-resistant cap. Chances are, he'd shoot someone with the gun or burn down the house within the first fifteen minutes. It might take a little longer for the pills. In fact, there's a good chance that he might never figure out how to open the lid.
What if instead of a gun, or matches, or pills, you gave him an unsafe toy? Chances are that ten thousand kids could play with that toy and only one of them would get hurt. Would you take the risk that it would be your child?
Most toys sold in the United States meet certain basic safety requirements, such as the voluntary standards embodied in ASTM F963. This holiday season, some toys that don't meet these requirements will get into the hands of children -- maybe your child. To reduce the risk of injury, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Don't buy a toy made by a company you know nothing about. If you see something you like and you're not sure about the manufacturer, do some research. Our toy links page has links to about 30 toy companies. If you can't find the company you're interested in there, try looking for it at the Toy Manufacturers of America website. Find out about the company's philosophy, especially its safety concerns. Established toy companies are more likely to have strict testing requirements and follow rigorous safety standards, especially if they are members of the TMA.
2. Buy only age-appropriate toys. Check the packaging to see the recommended age for a particular toy, especially if your child is under the age of three. Kids under the age of three are more likely to put small objects in their mouths, which can lead to choking. The age recommendations are based more on physical development than on intelligence and emotional maturity, so don't buy a toy meant for an older child even if your youngster is the next Einstein. Even your two and a half year old genius could choke on the small parts of a toy intended for kids five and over.
3. Buy a toy built to last. If possible, handle the toy before you buy it. Make sure it's made of durable material. Check to see if wheels or eyes or any other part attached to the main body is likely to separate. Think about all the different torture tests your child will inflict on that toy. If it can't handle rough play, put it back and pick out something that can.
4. Once you've bought the toy, read all the instructions and information that came with it. Note any special requirements, and save the instructions for future reference.
5. If you didn't get a chance to do so earlier, test the toy for sturdiness.
6. Teach your child how to care for his toys. Toys left strewn all over the house are more than just a nuisance. They are more likely to be stepped on and broken, and the broken pieces could be sharp enough to cut or small enough to choke on. Make sure your child has a place to store toys out of the way -- especially if you have younger kids around. It's no use buying only age appropriate toys for your two year old if she has easy access to her older brother's stuff. Also, periodically check your child's toys for loose or broken parts and fix or get rid of any that don't pass the sturdiness test.
7. Keep on the alert for safety recalls. Check out the Consumer Product Safety Commission's website for news of recalls. If you have hand-me-downs or toys you bought at garage sales, be sure to check the archives for past recalls.
8. Never give a child under the age of eight a latex (rubbery) balloon! Choking on latex balloons is one of the leading causes of toy-related death. If you want your child to have a balloon, give her a mylar balloon, which does not pose as great a threat. If you are planning to use latex balloons as party decorations, be sure to keep them out of the reach of young children.
9. Never let your child get on a bike or a skateboard without a helmet! Injuries from riding toys are another leading cause of toy-related deaths. You can buy helmets just about anywhere you can buy bikes, so there's no excuse for your child not to have one -- and use it. If you doubt your ability to properly fit your child's helmet to his head, take your child with you to a bike shop and buy the helmet there, where a knowledgeable salesperson will be able to help you ensure a proper fit.
For an extensive list of website links for online toystores, toy manufacturers, and toy safety information, see Circle Time's Guide to Toy Shopping.
Circle Time e-zine is Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett
Current Issue of Circle Time -- First Visit? -- Subscribe - FREE