Holiday Advice for Age-Appropriate, Safe Toys

With the excitement of the holidays, parents, and relatives eagerly purchase the hottest toys and latest items for their children. But it's during the hustle and bustle of the season that many fail to buy age appropriate gifts and they tend to disregard warnings on these toys and gifts when it comes to ensuring safety.

Doctors and experts at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center suggest parents consider their child's age, interests, and skill levels when purchasing toys. While shopping, parents are urged to read product warnings and labels, look for sturdy construction and avoid items with sharp edges and points. Once the gifts are opened, it's important to quickly discard plastic wrappings and keep older children's toys away from younger siblings.

"Children under five years--and especially those under three years--are particularly vulnerable to airway obstruction due to small upper airways, inexperience with chewing and a natural tendency to put everything in their mouths," said Michael Gittelman, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at Cincinnati Children's.

Gittelman added that choking is the one of the leading causes of toy-related death. Most of these deaths are attributed to toy balls and latex balloons as well as non-toy related objects like coins and foods.

The Child Safety Protection Act requires choking hazard warning labels on packaging for small toys or toys containing small parts that are intended for use by children ages three to six. The act also bans any toy intended for use by children under age three that may pose a choking or ingestion hazard. Parents are encouraged to read all warning labels carefully before purchasing any item.

A "choke tube" or small parts tester can be purchased to check for choking hazards from small toys. The "choke tube" is a plastic cylinder object that approximates the size of a child’s airway. Parents and care givers can also use a toilet paper roll if they don’t have access to a choke tube. If an object fits entirely in the cylinder (without being compressed) it is small enough to be a choking hazard.

"Riding toys (including unpowered scooters) are associated with more injuries than any other toy group. Death may occur when a child is hit by a motor vehicle, or when a child rides the toy into a body of water or down the stairs," Gittelman said. "The majority of riding toy-related injuries occurs when children fall from toys."

Gittelman adds that parents and caregivers also need to be extra cautious about toys that are handed down from friends and relatives that may not have warning labels. He advises that parents and caregivers inspect these toys carefully and use their best judgment. He also suggests that parents be aware of safety hazards associated with toys that have magnets, including ingestion and choking.

Drowning, suffocation, and strangulation are other causes of toy-related deaths. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, parents can help prevent toy-related injuries by purchasing age appropriate toys. Examples of good age appropriate toys may include:

  • Zero- to one-year-old children explore with their eyes, hands, and mouth. Ideal toys include: crib gyms, floor activity centers, activity quilts, squeaky toys, and soft dolls or stuffed animals with non-removable eyes.
  • One- to three-year-old children climb, jump, walk, throw, and play rough and tumble games. Ideal toys include: soft blocks, large blocks, push and pull toys, pounding and shaping toys, and popup and picture books.
  • Three- to five-year-old children like to use their imagination and have toys that are close companions. Ideal toys include: nontoxic art supplies, pretend toys (e.g. play money, telephone), teddy bears or dolls, outdoor toys (e.g. tricycle and a helmet), and books.
  • Five- to nine-year-old children like to be challenged with complex games that teach specific skills and concepts. Ideal toys include: arts and crafts kits, puppets, jump ropes, action figures, miniature dolls, and books.
  • Nine- to 14-year-old children develop lifelong skills, hobbies, and enjoy team and individual sports. Ideal toys include: handheld electronic games, board games, sports equipment with protective gear (helmet, knee pads, elbow pads), model kits, musical instruments, and books.

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