Play is a vital part of child development and while safer than ever before, as parents we should remain vigilant about hidden hazards posed by toys on store shelves.
So what can we do to keep little ones safe at play? Useful points to consider include what to look for when buying toys, understanding safety marks and labelling, ensure that the right safety checks have been carried out, and considerations when giving and receiving used toys.
What to Look for When Buying Toys?
- Age Suitability – check the recommended age range on the toy. Most toys have age guidelines but do not treat these as set-in-stone. Consider your own child’s maturity and whether they are physically ready for the toy – some four year olds will still put almost everything into their mouths. Toys which are intended to be thrown or have projectiles are not suitable for children under four and, in fact, some six year olds may not be ready for toys of this type.
- Size – always look at the size of the toy. If it has parts smaller than mouth-size, don’t buy it for a baby or toddler as it may find its way into the mouth and Cause Choking. Also, check the size and weight of the toy in relation to the child. Is there a danger it could topple onto a small child? Will a baby drop it due to its weight?
- Edges, Attachments & Fillings – toys should not have any sharp or rough edges, spikes, dangerous protrusions or splinters. Look at how toys are put together, check for loose hair, poorly attached buttons, eyes, tails, ribbons, beads and any other attachments that could be snapped or bitten off. Check toys for any moving parts that could trap or pinch little fingers such as doors, slots and springs. Some fillings can choke children. Check seams and make sure the manufacturer has included details of materials.
- String or Cords – make sure the toy does not have strings or cords which could get wrapped around a child and be a strangling hazard. Cords on dressing up clothing are also a hazard as they can become lodged in a door or piece of machinery.
- Food Products – imitation foods can be confusing to a small child. If you think your child will try to eat it, don’t buy it. Toys containing real sweets are widely available especially around Christmas and Easter time, but ensure your child is old enough to understand the difference.
- Ride on Toys – check the toy is the correct size for your child. Ensure that other children playing nearby cannot be injured by moving toys or trap their fingers under rockers and wheels. The safest way for your child to enjoy ride on toys is under close supervision by a responsible adult.
If you buy a toy that you feel is unsafe for the purpose, report it to your nearest Trading Standards Office. Check that new toys comply with all the relevant safety standards; the CE mark and the Lion mark are the key ones to look out for. Our article on Safety Marks gives full details of what the marks mean.
Safety Checks, Upkeep and Storage
In addition to the purchase of new toys, we can keep our young ones safe by following some basic practices:
- Keep Toys Clean – toys which have been in contact with food products, or which have been outside, should be regularly cleaned. All toys given to babies should be cleaned frequently. If you want to remove dust mites from soft toys, you can put them in the freezer for at least 6 hours to kill off the mites. Just give them a quick vacuum when they come out to remove mite faeces.
- Keep Tidy – it’s hard to keep toys neatly in cupboards and containers, as for some reason kids just don’t seem to like it this way! However, toys are tripping hazards and should be tidied up as often as is reasonably possible.
- Storage – keep toys stored safely in labelled boxes or tubs. Ensure that children are not put at risk by trying to get toys down from high places, and that small fingers are safe by using cupboard/drawer/ door safety products.
- Check Regularly – look through your child’s toys regularly and check seams, fixtures, fastenings, breakages and so on. If toys are broken, throw them away.
- Giving and Receiving Used Toys – never give toys away to jumble sales, charity shops or relatives without checking first that they are in good working order. Also, check them over for safety hazards as you would when buying a new toy. Check over all toys that are given to you and if in doubt throw them out.
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