It is more important than ever to know what toys are safe for our children. A new study reveals the names of real toys were sold to millions of unsuspecting Americans: The 10 Most Dangerous Toys of All Time.

Toys are supposed to bring joy and happiness to children, especially during the holidays. And most do so safely. But for the 200,000-plus kids injured on average each year and the 270 killed since 1998, happiness became a nightmare. Whether giving or receiving, You Should Know more about safe toys this holiday season.

This week, holiday toy catalogs are loading up mailboxes throughout the country. Having reviewed several of them and the toys they advertise with mixed feelings, I believe parents, caregivers and family members need to watch out for some unsafe toys on the market this season. 

More about Child Toy Safety

There are brightly colored, attractive plastic toys–sold under reputable brand names that bear little or no warnings about having possibly detachable parts. And it’s not only children’s toys to watch out for: Adult desk toys can easily get into the hands of little ones and sometimes contain magnets or small balls. There are quite a number of toys that lookcool but could create dangers for young children. If you think a toy could be unsafe, it probably is. Some toys which are okay for older children can create trouble for a little one, such as toys with small parts or balls that could get lodged in a throat or windpipe, toys that use heat or electricity to run them, or contain chemicals, or coins. If there are toddlers in the home, you can expect them to be curious, so you need think about the safety of the entire family when purchasing toys. 

Many people not only buy toys for their own children but often for the children of friends and relatives. One helpful hint when buying toys for other children is to contact their parents to learn what they already have in their toy chest and, not only what they like, but what type of toy their parents would approve of them receiving. Beyond the type of toy, parents also need to think about what children are ready to play with–stretching a child’s capabilities can be good, but giving a child a toy that is far beyond the level of their hand-eye coordination, for example, or for which they have not reached a certain level of learning could create a safety disaster as well as disappointment. 

For young children, toys to avoid are toys with sharp edges, small detachable parts, “bucky” balls, small magnets, attachments, or batteries that can be swallowed, and toys with lead paint or that contain toxic materials. Plush toys that are too big for small children and toys with plastic or rubber masks also present the danger of suffocation, and they are on the market. KidsHealth from Nemours (Choosing Safe Toys“, The Nemours Foundation, KidsHealth ,c. 1995-2012) suggests the following when going to purchase toys:

  • If purchasing toys made of fabric, they should be labeled as flame resistant or flame retardant;
  • Stuffed toys need to be washable;
  • Toys that are painted need to be painted with lead-free, non-toxic paint;
  • Art supplies need to be labeled “non-toxic”;
  • Crayons and paints should say “ASTM D-4236 on the package which means they have been evaluated by the American Society for Testing and Materials;
  • Avoid older toys which are hand-me-downs, or worn out toys that can break and become hazardous;
  • Make sure if a toy makes sounds that the sounds are not too loud for your child–especially when a little one holds it close to their ears!

Avoid Common Hazards 

1. Choking

Choking is the most common cause of toy-related deaths. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), at least 41 children aspirated or choked to death from 2005-09 on balloons, toys, or toy parts.

Bigger is better: Do not buy small toys or toys with small parts for children under age 3. If a toy or part of a toy can pass through a toilet paper tube, don’t buy it for a child under age 3, or any child who still puts things in his/her mouth.

Read and heed warning labels: Toys with small parts intended for children between ages 3 and 6 are required by law to include an explicit choking hazard warning.

Never give young children small balls or balloons: Small balls, balloons and pieces of broken balloons are particularly dangerous, as they can completely block a child’s airway. Balls for children under 6 years old must be more than 1.75 inches in diameter. Never give latex balls to children younger than 8 years old.

2. Magnetic Toys With Powerful Magnets

New, powerful small magnets used in most magnetic building toys, toy darts, magnetic jewelry, and other toys can fall out of small toys and look like shiny candy. If a child swallows more than one magnet, the magnets can attract each other in the body (in the stomach and intestines) and cause life-threatening complications. If a child swallows even one magnet, seek immediate medical attention.

3. Watch or “Button” Batteries

Keep watch or “button” batteries away from children. If swallowed, the battery acid can cause fatal internal injuries.

4. Noise

Children’s ears are sensitive. If a toy seems too loud for your ears, it is probably too loud for a child. Take the batteries out of loud toys or cover the speakers with tape.

5. Strangulation Hazards

Mobiles: Keep mobiles out of the reach of children in cribs and remove them before the baby is five months old or can push him/herself up.

Cords: Remove knobs and beads from cords longer than one foot to prevent the cords from tangling into a dangerous loop.

Drawstrings: Clothing with drawstrings on the hood can get caught on fixed objects like playground equipment and pose a strangulation hazard.

6. Lead and Other Toxic Chemicals

Some children’s toys and cosmetics may contain lead or other toxic chemicals, including phthalates. While most lead and phthalates are being phased out of toys beginning in 2009, older toys may still contain them.

Toys with PVC Plastic: Avoid toys made of PVC plastic which could contain toxic phthalates posing developmental hazards; choose unpainted wooden or cloth toys instead.

Lead: The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), PIRG and children’s health groups have found high levels of lead paint on toys, as well as high levels of lead in vinyl lunch boxes and bibs, and in children’s costume jewelry. All lead should be removed from a child’s environment, especially lead jewelry and other toys that can be swallowed. To test jewelry for lead, use a home lead tester available at the hardware store, or simply throw costume jewelry made with such heavy metals away.

Other chemicals: Read the labels of play cosmetics and avoid products with xylene, toluene, or dibutyl phthalate.

Additional Tips:

Accessorize your kids for safety. Toys such as bicycles, scooters, skateboards and inline skates are safer when children wear protective gear. If you plan to give any of these toys as gifts, make them safer by also giving a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads and wrist guards.

Stay informed of recalls. The CPSC recalls numerous toys and children’s products each year. Check www.recalls.gov for an archive of old recalls and to sign up to receive email alerts of new recalls.

What are the Numbers?

According to the Consumer Protection Safety Commission, there were 262,300 serious toy-related injuries in 2011 and 13 deaths. The leading cause of death was from from choking on toy parts, small balls or balloons.

From Standing Guard for Consumers, CPSC and U.S. Customs News Release: More than 2 million units of dangerous or violative toys and children’s products were seized in 2012 and were prevented from reaching the hands of children. CPSC investigators and CBP inspectors are working arm-in-arm at ports across the United States to keep families safe during this holiday toy shopping season.

Over the past four years, CPSC and CBP have stopped more than 8.5 million units of about 2,400 different toys and children’s products due to safety hazards or the failure to meet federal safety standards. By seizing dangerous toys and children’s products at the ports, those products remain off store shelves and out of consumer’s homes.

Chairman Tenenbaum and Commissioner Aguilar urged parents to remain vigilant when making toy purchases and always keep safety at the top of their toy shopping list.

Government regulators alone can’t protect our children from unsafe toys, according to Playing with Safety from the American Association for Justice. Continued vigilance by parents and consumer protection groups – backed by a strong civil justice system – is still needed.

Helpful Apps and Websites

US PIRG has an App to track toy safety on your smartphone: www.toysafety.mobi

The 2012 Trouble in Toyland report is the 27th annual U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. In this report, U.S. PIRG provides safety guidelines for consumers when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

Good Housekeeping’s Best Toy Awards 2012: We know how much creativity, skill-building, problem-solving, and strategy go into playtime. That’s why GHRI staff spent the last year selecting 135 promising new toys and games before turning them over to 140 kids, ages 3 to 13, for testing in our labs and in their homes. We parsed 1,000-plus surveys, subjected toys to a Drop Tester, and checked safety data to find the 24 best.
The Dr. Toy Guide for Best Advice on Children’s Products: Dr. Toy, Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, is one of the world’s leading experts on play, toys, and children’s products. With 30 years of direct experience, Dr. Auerbach includes educationally oriented, developmental and skill building products from the best large and small companies in her four annual award programs. Many parents, teachers and toy buyers use Dr. Toy’s guidance in making selections.

Report A Dangerous Toy

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has the authority to recall dangerous toys and products from the market. If you think a toy or product is hazardous, contact the CPSC and submit a report by:

Phone: 1-800-638-2772
Email: Send a message to the CPSC
Website: Report a dangerous toy at www.saferproducts.gov