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December 3, 2007

U-M Health Minute: Today’s top health issues and medical research

5 tips for buying the safest toys for kids this holiday season

U-M pediatrician says lead shouldn’t be parents’ only concern when buying toys

ANN ARBOR, MI – It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but recent toy recalls are putting a damper on the joyful holiday shopping season. 


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As parents begin perusing toy stores with lists in hand, many worry about picking goodies that are safe for their little ones.

“I am very concerned about what toys to buy,” says Linda Mata, who is buying toys for her grandchildren. “You may buy them now, and then find out later that there is a recall after the children have already played with them.”

Jolene Duckworth, a mother of two, is also being extra cautious this holiday season:  “It is very important to know what types of toys are safe. The recent recalls due to lead have made me very worried about what to buy.” 

While toys exceeding federal standards for lead content should be a concern, it should not be the only thing on parents’ minds while shopping this holiday season, says Sharon Swindell, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatrician at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

“The fact of the matter is that although these toy exposures are a concern for children, the biggest risk of lead exposure is still in the homes of the United States,” she says.  “Parents need to really look at the toy carefully and read the labeling for many other things too, including if it is age-appropriate for your child.”

To help parents become smart toy shoppers, Swindell offers these five tips to pick the safest and most appropriate toys for kids this holiday season.

Swindell's 5 tips for safe holiday toy shopping:

  1. Health Minute ImageDon’t worry, but be vigilant. “The toy recalls have raised concerns about a number of features on imported toys,” notes Swindell. Check online for up-to-date recall information before heading out to the stores. Look for warnings about small parts, breaking, fire and choking hazards, as well asinformation about lead paint. “Even made in the U.S.A. does not mean it is a safe toy, so make sure to check all labels and recalls,” Swindell cautions.
  2. Be cautious when shopping online. “There are pros and cons to online shopping,” Swindell says.  While it may be more convenient, you are not able to hold the toy and examine it as effectively as you would in-person.  If you prefer online shopping, Swindell recommends reading product reviews from multiple sources — by other customers and independent panels — to make sure the toy is safe.
  3. Choose toys wisely to make your children wiser. “Toys that promote healthy behavior or require children to use their imagination should always be top picks,” Swindell says.  Toys such as a new bike, a puppet or doll, a book, or anything that involves the active engagement of the child’s mind are good ways to promote mental activity and healthy habits. 
  4. Inspect toys carefully and always read the labels. “Toy testing is only done when the toy is intact, so even a safe toy can become dangerous,” Swindell warns.  Broken toys must be thrown away. And before you purchase a toy, make sure it is well constructed. When pieces break off a toy, it can leave a sharp edge or cause a possible chocking hazard.  When selecting a toy, make sure it is age-appropriate. “Age recommendations are made by independent review panels that look at the size of the parts, strangulation and choking hazards as well as the ability of children to use the toys according to their motor skills,” Swindell says 
  5. Research the toys on your little one’s wish list. If your child has been dying for a toy all year and advertisements for it seem to be popping up everywhere, make sure to check it out before you buy.  Look online for any recall information, product reviews by other customers and independent panels. If you find that the particular toy is just not right, look for other, similar options. “If it is something that the kids have seen on TV or in a movie, try to find another toy that has that same theme but is just right,” Swindell says.  For example, consider a puzzle from your child’s favorite movie instead of a movie action figure that may include small pieces. 

And, before you buy, be sure to read these other toy-buying tips:

  • Buying a bike, tricycle, scooter, or anything with wheels? Make sure to buy a helmet.
  • Don’t forget books – they count as toys too. 
  • Organic toys are becoming more popular, but Swindell cautions that there is not yet a designated label that provides information about a toy being organic.
  • Look for toys that are flame resistant, retardant or nonflammable.
  • If the toy is battery-operated or requires recharging of any sort, have a parent do it. Serious burns and other injuries may result if not done properly.
  • If you are buying a stuffed animal, doll or other toy that is filled, make sure the inside contents would not pose a choking hazard if the toy was ripped or broken.  Avoid substances such as beans and pellets whenever possible. 

To learn more, visit these web sites:
UMHS Health Topics A-Z: Toy safety, ages 18 months to 3 years

UMHS Health Topics A-Z: Toy safety, ages 3 to 6 years

UMHS Health Topics A-Z: Toy safety, ages 6 to 9 years

UMHS Your Child: Safety Tips for the Holiday Season

KidsHealth: Choosing Safe Toys

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Written by Milly Dick


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