Avoid Holiday Toy Traps

The busy holiday shopping season is upon us. While that can mean plenty of fun for children, it can also bring harm due to hidden hazards found in some toys.

I was pleased to join Connecticut Children’s President & CEO James Shmerling; Sam Donahue and Petra Favorite of ConnPIRG; and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal at our annual toy safety news conference at Connecticut Children’s. Each year during the news conference, ConnPIRG releases its Trouble in Toyland Report, which documents popular toys its experts say could potentially harm children.

This blog highlights my remarks at the news conference.

With the busiest toy-buying season of the year upon us, it is important to remind parents, grandparents and other caregivers that even though countless toys are recalled each year, we cannot assume all toys sold on store shelves are safe for children.

A child is treated in an emergency room every three minutes for a toy-related injury, and more than half of such injuries occur to children under age 5. Many of these injuries happen when children choke on toys that contain small parts. Caregivers should keep small parts away from young children and ensure children avoid playing with magnets or batteries, which are extremely dangerous if swallowed. How do you know if a toy, or its parts, are too small for young children? We recommend using a small parts tester, such as a toilet paper roll. If you are able to drop parts of toys into such a tester, then those toys are too small for children under age 3 to play with.

A big risk factor for children over 5 years old continues to be riding toys. Caregivers should always ensure children wear helmets and other safety gear while riding bicycles, scooters and other riding toys. Younger children should be supervised while using such toys and caregivers should always make sure to talk to older children about safety when they are more independent and able to use such toys without supervision.

This season, many children are expected to receive portable electronics, such as cell phones or headphones. Parents and caregivers should make sure to have a conversation with their tweens and teens about the potential safety risks due to the distraction posed by these devices. The increase in pedestrian deaths over the last 10 years is at least in part explained by the increase in distracted drivers and distracted pedestrians. Parents should set reasonable limits on device use when children are out and about.

It’s important to realize that all of these injuries are preventable.

Parents, grandparents and other caregivers can take simple steps to ensure the safety of children:

  • Select age appropriate toys.
  • Inspect all toys to ensure they are safe.
  • Supervise children when they play with toys, which means actively playing with children rather than just being in the same room with them.
  • For older children, set ground rules on the use of portable electronics to avoid distraction.

Always remember that the best gift you can give children is a loving and safe environment in which you make a point to slow down and spend time playing with them, because that is what they will remember when all of their toys are gone.

Steven C. Rogers, MD, is an attending physician and director of mental health services for Connecticut Children’s Emergency Department. Dr. Rogers is also a research scientist for Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center, which is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health. This story was originally posted on the Advancing Kid’s Blog.


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