Choosing a toy for children can be tricky. You have to consider the age of the child, what kinds of toys they like, and what cool, new toys are popular. But the most important consideration when choosing a toy for any child should be safety. It can be hard to know what toys are safe for children and what should be avoided, but there are a few simple guidelines you can follow to make sure the toys you purchase are safe.
Check the labels
Many toys and games have labels that provide information about the toy’s safety or appropriate age range. You will often find labels that state “Not recommended for children under age three”, for example. Certain types of toys have specific labels you should check for. For fabric toys, look for a label stating that the fabric used is flame resistant or flame retardant. Art supplies, like markers, crayons, and paints should be clearly labelled non-toxic. They should also say “conforms to ASTM D-4236” somewhere—this label indicates that they’ve been evaluated by the American Society for Testing and Materials. If you’re purchasing an electronic toy, check for a label with a small, circular logo that says “UL” inside. This means an electronic device met standards imposed by Underwriters Laboratories, an independent group that inspects devices for safety.
Think about the child’s age
Toys that are fine for older children aren’t always safe for toddlers and younger children. With toddlers, you want to be especially careful about toys with removable small parts. Toddlers love to put anything they can get their hands on in their mouth, so they may choke on small parts. This includes batteries—make sure battery-operated toys have screws so the battery pack can’t be opened by a child. Double-check toys for young children and make sure there are no sharp pieces or long strings the child may wrap around their neck. Older children can play with a wider variety of toys, but there are still special considerations. Make sure your child has proper safety equipment, like knee and elbow pads. All children should wear a helmet when riding a bike, skateboard, or scooter. Check that any helmet you purchase has a Snell label—this means it meets the highest safety requirements.
Check the toy’s condition
If you purchase or receive a second-hand toy, check it carefully before giving it to your child.A toy that was perfectly safe when it was brand-new may be less safe as it becomes worn. Wooden toys may become splintered. Outdoor toys like bikes can rust, making the bike unsteady and exposing your child to dangerous sharp edges. Plastic toys can break, creating sharp points or choking hazards for small children. Even stuffed animals can break apart, exposing small pieces that a young child might choke on.
Keep non-toys away
Children may be tempted to play with things that are not meant to be toys. When giving a child a toy, make sure plastic wrapping and packaging is properly disposed of. Children can be suffocated by these. While balloons are fun for children’s birthday parties and special occasions, they also present a choking hazard. A balloon should never be given to a child as a toy, and children should be supervised when playing with balloons.
Be careful with toy weapons
Little boys love to play cops and robbers, but you have to be careful when purchasing toy weapons for children. Toy guns should be brightly-colored, or have a bright, colorful tip so they can be easily identified. Toy arrows or darts should never have a pointed tip. They should have suction cups or cork tips to protect children. Check that toys like dart guns can’t fire other objects, like rocks or screws. BB guns and pellet guns should only be given to children over the age of 16, and only if the child is responsible and understands the safety risks.
Use common sense
There’s no way to predict every accident a child might have with a toy. However, using your best judgement, you can avoid toys that are clearly dangerous or not meant for children, like slingshots or pocket knives. Know the child you’re buying the toy for, and make sure they understand how to play safely.