By Karon Warren | Photography courtesy of Consumer Product Matters and Riverview Health
As the holidays approach, stores are filled with shoppers searching for the “perfect” toy for Christmas morning. And while it’s easy to find plenty of lists touting the “must have” or “hottest” toys of the season, the real priority for shoppers should be toy safety.
Age is more than a number when it comes to toys. When searching for toys that are age-appropriate, look for products that match the child’s developmental abilities.
“For example, if you are shopping for a child who is under 6 months old, you should look for toys that stimulate the senses, like mobiles, crib gyms and musical chime toys,” said Joan Lawrence, senior vice president of standards and regulatory affairs for The Toy Association in New York and Washington, D.C.
“As children get older and their abilities evolve, look for toys that are more engaging. For example, a toddler between the ages of 2 and 3 would really benefit from role-play items or dress-up clothes that foster imaginative play.”
To find safe toys suitable for the child’s developmental abilities, always purchase toys geared to the child’s age by checking the age label on the package.
“The age label is based upon safety requirements and testing and not how smart a child is,” Lawrence said. “You should avoid products with labels that do not match the age of your child.”
She warns adults to keep all toys labeled for children age 3 and older away from children younger than 3-years-old, because many of these toys include small parts that could be a choking hazard.
For more ideas, The Toy Association maintains an age-by-age toy buying guide based on child development research available on its website.
Where You Shop Matters
Oftentimes, shoppers want a reputable brand-name toy but cannot always afford a brand-name price. Or they think it’s OK to buy secondhand toys from garage sales or at thrift stores.
“We always tell consumers to shop at a retailer they know and trust,” Lawrence said. “Store staff at established businesses will be knowledgeable about age-appropriate toys. On the other hand, garage sales, secondhand stores or temporary retailers may not know about the latest safety information and certified products and may not be around should an issue arise with the toy later on.”
When shopping for toys, Lawrence recommends picking up a toy and checking to see how sturdy it is. Children, regardless of age, can be very hard on toys, and those toys need to stand up to rigorous play. This is especially important at discount stores that have bargain-priced toys. Many of these toys may fall apart the moment a child pulls on or drops them.
Do Some Research
It might be easy to grab a toy off the shelf because the age label works for your child, but it’s important to look beyond that number to the instructions and details of the toy.
“I can’t overstress how important it is to check and follow age guidance and other safety information on toy packaging,” Lawrence said. “Remember, the age-grading isn’t about how smart your child is; it’s safety guidance based on the developmental skills and abilities of children at a given age and the specific features of a toy.”
Also, before purchasing any toy, check to see if there are any recalled products at PlaySafe.org. Although stores and online retailers should be removing items as soon as a recall is issued, this is not always the case. Shoppers also can keep checking the website in case a recall is issued after they purchase a particular toy. If a recall is issued, follow the instructions provided on the website to remedy the situation.
After the Purchase
Keeping tabs on toy safety after toys are brought home presents new challenges, especially when there are multiple children of varying ages in the home. To maintain toy safety for children of all ages, Lawrence highly recommends adult participation and supervision.
“Get on the floor and play with your kids!” she said. “Demonstrating the correct way to use a toy or game is the best way to make sure your child understands how to properly and safely use and enjoy it.”
To keep younger siblings safe around older siblings’ toys, get the older siblings involved.
“We always tell parents to enlist the help of older children in keeping their toys away from the younger kids in the house,” Lawrence said. “They love the responsibility and the fact that they have toys they can call their own.”
Likewise, make sure each child properly stores his or her toys in separate bins or areas to keep little hands from getting into the big kids’ toys.
For more tips and information about toy and play safety, visit www.PlaySafe.org.