Guide: Safe Gifts vs. Unsafe Gifts

Monday, December 9, 2013

One of the most important things to parents is the safety of their children. And as the holiday shopping season is underway, parents should take steps to find healthy and fun gifts for kids. But how do you know a toy is safe for children?

Unsafe Toys

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group recently released its 28th annual "Trouble in Toyland" report, which details the “most dangerous toys of the year.” Key findings included:
  • Lead remains a hazard in some toys and is especially toxic to young brains
  • Presence of other toxic elements and chemicals that can leak out of toys including antimony, arsenic, cadmium, and phthalates
  • Toys to be wary of include: Items with small parts with improper labels, toys mistakenly purchased for children younger than 3, and toy foods “because they look to small children like something that should be eaten”
  • Toys made with magnets such as Buckyball magnets and ellipsoid toy magnets, which make a singing sound when striking them together, pose dangerous threats if swallowed
  • Toys that threaten children’s hearing, often exceeding noise standards
Toys for Any Age

Children’s National Health System’s Penny Glass, PhD, Director of the Child Development Program, also has tips for developmentally appropriate toys for children:
  • For infants, ideal gifts would include “a sturdy, safe, high chair to join parents at mealtimes, a roly/poly chime ball that tilts when touched but does not roll away, a ‘lovey’ to cuddle with during bedtime routine.”
  • For toddlers, Glass said, “A simple doll is great for both boys and girls because they can carry out doll activities much like they experience being cared for. Doll play enriches language and is the easiest kind of early pretend. Gradually add a few related objects such as a basket for a "bed,” small cover (washcloth), cup. Two dolls would mean that an adult could model the pretend and play alongside the toddler.”
  • Small tote bags, sturdy push cart or wagon are also great for toddlers “because they like to participate in ‘helping’ activities around home. Sending them on small ‘errands’ uses their natural busyness in a constructive way,” Glass said.
  • For preschoolers, “the best kind of toys invite interaction with other children such as a kitchen set (small pots, a few plates/spoons, etc.), dress-up costumes (hint: superhero costumes invite aggression), a tunnel and ramp for cars/trucks,” Glass said.
  • While blocks and Legos are great, “expect children this age to typically build best side by side, rather than attempt to get them to ‘cooperate’ in building something together. (Even adults have trouble with that),” she said.
  • Simple picture books and wonderful storybooks are great for all ages, according to Glass. “The best books are unrelated to TV or movie characters and invite listening and wondering.”
How to Choose a Safe Toy

And finally here are a few tips for buying toys from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
  • Read warning labels and show a child how to use the toy correctly
  • Avoid toys that shoot objects or are loud to avoid injuries, choking, and damage to hearing
  • Look for stuffed toys that are well made and are machine washable; avoid toys with small bean-like pellets or stuffing
  • Buy sturdy plastic toys; avoid those made of thin plastic
  • Avoid chemistry sets and hobby kits for children younger than 12 due to fire hazards and presence of potentially dangerous chemicals

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