Play it Safe When Giving Toys this Holiday Season

Dad helping son ride a bike
When giving kids bikes, skates and scooters, don't forget the helmet and other safety gear, such as knee and elbow pads.

The holiday shopping season is in full swing, with many of us busily working through wish lists, hoping to find the perfect present for the children in our lives.

Safety should always be a factor when picking out and purchasing toys for kids – during the holidays and throughout the year. A recent report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) backs that up with some concerning statistics.

According to the CPSC’s Toy-Related Deaths and Injuries report, there were 11 fatalities and approximately 209,500 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms last year.

Of the 11 deaths reported, most were attributed to choking or asphyxiation associated with small parts, balls, or balloons. Non-motorized scooters were linked to the largest number (35,400) of ER-treated injuries for all age groups, and accounted for 1 in 5 toy-related injuries in children under age 15.

As you shop for toys this holiday season, here are a few safety tips to keep in mind.

Give Toys that are Age Appropriate

You may have your heart set on surprising your little one with this year’s most popular toy, but it’s important to make sure it’s age-appropriate. Most toys have age ranges on the box to help adults decide if it’s suitable for their child. These guidelines can help ensure that the child can play with the toy safely and understand how it works. Some things to consider when picking out toys for your tots:

  • Potential choking hazards: Because toddlers frequently put things in their mouths, any toy intended for 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, it’s a choking risk. Deflated balloons can also be a choking hazard.
  • Potentially hazardous parts: Button and other small batteries for toys are dangerous if swallowed or put in the nose or ear. Promptly dispose of 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 toy, they may not be able to enjoy your gift.
Young Asian boy dressed as a doctor uses stethoscope on a stuffed toy
When buying toys for children, it's important that they are age-appropriate, safe and the child understands how to play with them.

Beware of Noisy Toys and Shooting Objects

Many toys make sounds and say words, which can help children develop speech skills. But toys that make very loud noises, such as fire trucks with sirens, can startle children and also 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 may also pose a choking risk.

Sturdy Toys Pass the Test of Time

High quality, well-made toys are safer and will last longer. Substantial toys made with heavier plastic or wood are preferable, because the pieces are less likely to break off.

When purchasing stuffed toys, choose those that have tight, secure seams and make sure sewn-on items are well secured to the toy. Avoid toys stuffed with small pellets, which can be a choking hazard if the seam splits open.

Although it may be tempting and less expensive to purchase toys second hand, it can also make it harder to determine if the toy is safe and working properly.

Baby sitting with his mom and playing with blocks
When it comes to toys, the sturdier the better. High quality, well-made toys are safer and last longer.

Research the Recalls

Before heading to the stores or shopping online, do some research to find out which toys have recently been recalled or tagged for safety issues.

In recent years, some magnetic toys have been a safety concern. If swallowed, magnets can pull together within the digestive system and cause serious damage.

Other toy recalls are due to sharp parts that pose laceration hazards, toxic chemical content exceeding federal standards, choking or fire hazards.  

The CPSC’s website provides reliable information about recalled products, including toys, and other children’s products. And the Motherhood Community website includes a list of toys recalled in 2023.

Remember the Helmet

If you’re giving a child a bike, scooter, skates, or skis, be sure to accessorize the gift with a helmet and other safety gear, such as knee and elbow pads.

A father checks his young son's bike helmet before he goes for a bike ride.
If you're giving a bike to a child this holiday season, don't forget the helmet.

When it comes to helmets, children should try before you buy, to ensure a proper fit. This may mean they have to “slow their roll” and wait to use the gift. But it also provides an opportunity to teach children the importance of wearing a helmet and not riding on busy roads with motor vehicles.


Linda Oliver, PA-C, MPH is Interim Vice President of Ambulatory Operations at South Shore Health.

Learn more about primary care at South Shore Medical Center.