Five Toy Safety Tips for the Holiday Shopping Season


Dr. Lindsay Rosshirt

Lindsay Rosshirt, MD, Pediatrician

As we head into the thick of holiday shopping season, it’s likely that there is at least one child on your gift list. At this time of year it is particularly important to discuss toy safety. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, last year there were an estimated 174,100 toy-related ER-treated injuries involving children younger than age 15.

Before heading to the store, here are five toy safety tips to keep in mind.

1. Choose Age-Appropriate Toys
You may have your heart set on gifting a little one a particular toy but it’s important to make sure that the toy is age-appropriate. The vast majority of toys available today have age labels on the box to help adults decide if a toy is suitable for their child. These guidelines can help ensure that the child can play with the toy safely and understand how it works. Things to think about when choosing age-appropriate toys include:

  • The potential choking hazards: As parents know well, toddlers love putting things in their mouths, so any toy intended for use by children under age 3 should not have small parts. A good rule of thumb is that if the toy has pieces small enough to fit into the child’s mouth, there is a risk of choking. Deflated balloons can be a choking hazard as well.
  • Other potential hazardous parts: It is important to look out for button batteries which can be very dangerous if swallowed or put in the nose or ear. Promptly throw away any plastic wrappings as they can cause suffocation.
  • The child’s ability to play with the toy: If the child isn’t able to push around a toy car or truck, or understand how to use the kids’ kitchen, then they may not be able to enjoy your gift.

2. Be Careful of Loud Noises and Shooting Objects
Many toys make sounds and say words, which can help children develop their speech skills. However, toys that make really loud noises, like a toy fire truck with sirens, can scare the child and cause hearing damage. The Sight and Hearing Association puts out a list of the noisiest toys each year—try to avoid these items. Toys that shoot small objects into the air can cause a serious eye injury and the small pieces pose a choking risk.

3. The Sturdier, the Better
High quality, well-made toys are safer and will last longer. Toys made of thick plastic or wood are preferable to thinner plastic because the pieces are less likely to break off. When purchasing stuffed toys, look for tight, secure seams and make sure sewn-on items are well-secured to the stuffed toy. It’s best to avoid toys stuffed with small pellets, which can be a choking hazard if the seam comes undone. Although it’s tempting to purchase toys second-hand, it can make it harder to determine if the toy is safe and working properly.

4. Remember the Recalls
Before heading to the stores, do some research to see what toys have recently been recalled or called out for safety issues. For example, magnetic toys have been a recent safety topic. If swallowed, magnets can pull together within the digestive system and cause serious damage. Other reasons for recalls include unsafe lead levels, choking, or fire hazards.

A good source to check for recalls is the website Safe Kids Worldwide. It has a comprehensive list of all child-related product recalls collected from these major federal agencies: the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

5. Don’t Forget the Helmet
If purchasing a bike, roller blades, ice skates, skis or a scooter for a child, then a helmet to go with the gift is essential. Last year, riding toys (especially scooters) were associated with the most toy-related injuries and nearly half of toy-related deaths. Children should try on the helmet before a purchase is made to ensure that it fits properly. This can mean a waiting period before the child can start using their gift, but it is a great opportunity to teach your kids about helmet use. Also consider other safety gear such as elbow and knee pads. Teach your child to avoid riding on roads with other motor vehicles.

If shopping for toys seems a bit overwhelming, don’t worry, you aren’t the only one who feels that way. Following the guidance above should help to ensure a safe holiday season. Happy holidays!


Dr. Lindsay Rosshirt is a pediatrician at South Shore Medical Center. She is accepting new patients. Make an appointment with Dr. Rosshirt.