Buying safe toys
Claire McCarthy, MD, director of Pediatrics at Martha Eliot Health Center, offers advice to parents shopping for toys this holiday season. In this interview Dr. McCarthy describes how to keep up-to-date with toy recalls, toy hazards parents should be mindful of, and what other things parents should look for as they head to the stores.
With so many toy recalls these days, a lot of parents are worried about how they'll know whether a toy they have for their child is safe. Or whether a toy they're thinking of buying for their child is safe. What I'm recommending is that parents go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission web site. There, they have a list of all the toy recalls and you can sign up to get an email every time there is a toy recall. So you don't have to worry about missing and it will come right to your home computer.
Most of the toys our children play with are completely harmless, but sometimes toys can harm, like sometimes toys can kill. When you look at data about toys that kill and what aspects about toys that kill, choking is number one. And that can be because the toy itself is small or because it has small parts. And sometimes those small parts are things you wouldn't think of. It might be an eye off a stuffed animal or a wheel off a truck or clothes off a doll. So that's the biggest hazard that parents need to be aware of when they have small children. And some children, even slightly older children put things in their mouths. So just because your child is, say three or four, doesn't mean that you shouldn't be thinking about choking hazards and thinking about your child.
The other kind of toy that can get kids into big trouble is a toy that moves, especially if it can move a kid out into traffic. So skateboards, inline skates, bicycles, all of which are great--I mean don't get me wrong, I want kids moving and they can be a lot of fun--but when parents buy those for their children they need to be very mindful of safety issues and make sure that their kids have helmets and that they are using these toys in safe places with good supervision.
There are other ways the toys can be really harmful. Magnets, actually, can be very dangerous. And magnets are in a lot of toys these days. They're in building sets, they're in doll clothes, they're in all sorts of things. And if you swallow one, maybe not so much a big deal, but if you swallow two they can get stuck together inside you and cause very serious problems. So you want to be particularly careful with magnets, particularly if you have children in the house who might swallow them.
Which is another point, if you have children of different ages, a toy that can be very safe for one, could be deadly for another. So you want to be very careful about choosing toys. I'm not saying that every older kid needs to play only with toys that are safe for their baby brother. That would be no fun but you do need to have some careful rules about where toys are played with and where they're stored. And you need to enforce those rules.
It's very important to think about your child when you go out to buy toys for them. Which obviously you're going to be doing but the label can only tell you so much when it comes to safety. It just gives you age recommendations, but you need to think about the personality of your child. What is your child going to do with that toy? What is your child really going to do, for example, with that sword? It may really be a safe sword, as swords go, but if your child is going to be hitting everybody and everything with it, maybe you shouldn't buy it. You also need to be thinking about your house and your yard and where this child is going to be playing with the toy. Some of those flying toys are a lot of fun unless you don't have a back yard and they're going to be playing with them in the living room. And then you don't want that flying toy in your house. So just think, before you buy.
I really hope that as parents go out shopping this holiday season, they don't just think about the latest toy and the toy the kids are seeing on television but they think about what toys might really help their child. What toys might encourage them to think and create and move; some of the old basics, arts and crafts stuff or blocks or dress up. I mean just going to the thrift store and buying some fun clothes. So many toys these days do it all for the kid. And it's nice to have toys that kids really need to do something with.