Choking is the most common cause of toy-related deaths. According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), at least 33 children choked to death between 2005 and 2007 on balloons, toys, toy parts or balls.
Simply put, know the subject of your gift. If you give a gift to a family of that has a 3 year old and 6 month old don't buy the one with the really small parts. Don't think the child will "grow into it in the next year." A toy with a "choking hazard warning" should NOT be given to a child younger than 3 or a child of ANY age who still puts things in her mouth.
To be safe take balloons off your list. Never give small children balloons. It is not worth the risk. Don't give small children balls that appear to be as small as their mouth. Again, don't take the risk.
General Guidelines To Remember
Thanks to World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc. (W.A.T.C.H.) for some common sense tips about toy safety.
In general watch out for:
A) Batteries in toys for kids under 8 years old as batteries may overheat, explode or leak. My 3 year old has a few toys with batteries. I just did a quick check and noticed one toy's batteries with bad corrosion. Remember inside toys many times make it outside. Rain and the elements aren't good for toys and their batteries.
B) Any toys that are to be strung across a crib. They are a strangulation hazard.
C) Toys with strings longer than 6 inches. Again, these can strangle young kids.
D) Toys marketed on the internet without warnings, instructions, age indications or brands you recognize.
E) Projectile toys. Sling shots, dart guns and pea-type shooters. Yep, you can "shoot your eye out."
Just Say No To Chemicals
Some toys still contain lead. Be sure to check the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Website to see which toys have been recalled because of lead.
According to PIRG numerous scientists have documented the potential health effects of exposure to phthalates in the womb or as a young child. These effects include reproductive defects, premature delivery, early onset of puberty and lower sperm counts. After this holiday season, (Effective February 2009) toys that contain concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of a toxic chemical called phthalates are banned. PIRG found toys that contained concentrations of phthalates of up to 40 percent.
Which toys should you take off your list?
Avoid toys made of PVC plastic; which often contains phthalate softeners. Read the labels of play cosmetics and avoid products with xylene or toluene or phthalates. These pose hazards, especially to young kids.
Something You May Not Have Thought Of:
Magnets. Many toys contain small magnets. Not the magnets we use on our refrigerators. New more powerful magnets. The problem with these types of magnets occurs when a young child swallows a few of them. They can stick together in a child's intestines and stomach and cause terrible complications.
You'd be surprised at the number of toys that contain these types of magnets. Again, be careful and vigilant. Small magnets can fall off toys and look like shiny candy. And every kid likes candy.
Along these same lines watch the age limits placed on all toys. It is dangerous for young children to play with toys that are meant for older children.
Read The Numbers
Novelty cups and other food containers for kids are a popular item. Especially for kids who take a snack to day care or school. These past few years studies have shown that many hard plastic items contain Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is linked to diabetes and heart disease. BPA can leach from the plastic into a child's food. (BPA has also been found in pacifiers.)
Recently, food companies have advised parents worried about BPA to avoid microwaving food in plastic containers, especially those with the recycling No. 3, 6 and 7 stamped on the bottom.
But the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's testing found BPA leaching from containers with different recycling numbers, including Nos. 1, 2 and 5.
If you are going to buy any type of novelty food container for family or friends read the numbers located on the bottom of the container. To be safe avoid the "recycle numbers" 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7. Remember that not all products contain recycling codes. Be careful and do your research.
I've attached a number of web pages that I've found useful. Much of the information I've written about was gathered from the links I've attached. Also, watch your local news and read their consumer alert section of their web page. They usually have a number of stories about toy safety this time of year.
Take a look at the toy's before your kids unwrap them. Read the labels. If a toy doesn't look safe put it aside. Nowadays most everyone offers gift receipts or a good return policy. Take it back to the store and tell them the reason for the return. Don't worry about hurting a friend or family member's feelings. What's more important?
After the holidays check your kids toy bins to make sure their toys are really meant for them and are safe. Periodic checks are a good habit to start.
Additional resources provided by the author
There were more toy recalls in 2007 than ever before. Some dubbed it the Year of the recall. In response to 2007 the U.S. Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. This act doesn't take full effect until February 2009 and isn't the end of dangerous toys. In the upcoming months be sure to check the news on this new law and how the new Congress decides to enforce it.