Playing It Safe: 10 Tips to Avoid Toy-Related Injuries

Whether you wage battle at the store to nab just the right toy or you order it online, you are purchasing an important tool of childhood. Most likely, you are thinking ahead to the squeals of delight as wrapping paper gets ripped away. But you also need to keep safety in mind.

Across the country, there were an estimated 185,500 toy-related visits to hospital emergency centers last year among children younger than 15, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). While most the children were treated and released, many of the injuries were serious, from fractures and concussions to burns, puncture wounds and internal injuries. The CPSC says it is aware of at least 11 deaths in which toys played a role in 2015. Figures for 2016 are still being compiled.

Most Injuries Are Preventable

“Accidents do happen, there’s no question about it,” said Joseph Scott, M.D., chair and medical director of emergency medicine at West Kendall Baptist Hospital.

In many cases, injuries are preventable, he said. But parents must pay attention to their inner voice if they have doubts about a toy, or if they need to impose safety rules.

“Most parents are concerned, but it can be difficult to put restrictions on our children,” Dr. Scott said. “There is so much peer pressure. When all the other children are playing with a toy, their children want that toy, too.”

Many parents don’t realize that the Consumer Product Safety Commission does not test all toys, and that not all products online or in stores meet safety standards. Often, problems only come to light after a child is hurt.

‘Last Year’s Disaster With Hoverboards’

“We see items on a shelf and we assume that if it is in a store, it must be safe. But that’s not always the case. All you have to do it look at last year’s disaster with hoverboards,” Dr. Scott said. One of the hottest toys last year, hoverboards caused countless injuries when people could not maneuver them. By July, 500,000 hoverboards were recalled by the CPSC because the lithium batteries on less expensive brands were catching fire and exploding.

Even when recalls are issued, some toys remain for sale online, sometimes by merchants outside the country, according to the Public Interest Research Group, which compiles an annual report on toy safety. The nonprofit organization urges parents to check recalls before purchasing anything online.

“Be vigilant and don’t assume a toy is safe,” Dr. Scott advised. “Try to anticipate what could go wrong. We don’t want to assume the worst all the time, and we want our children to have fun, but you have to realize there is always a risk.”

Tips for Avoiding Injuries

Whatever your kids are playing with, here are suggestions to help avoid injuries all year round:

  • Watch party. Make adult supervision a key element of play, particularly outdoors. This is especially true with young children. Simply being in the same place as your child is not enough if you are looking at your phone. An actively supervised child is in your sight at all times. Be clear with your babysitter and other caregivers on this point. Accidents and injuries can happen in mere seconds.
  • Wise buys. Consider your child’s age when purchasing a toy. Parents sometimes buy products that are meant for older children because they feel their child is more mature or advanced than average. Age recommendations on toys have nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with safety.
  • Picking up the pieces. Choking is a leading cause of toy-related deaths among young children. Most of these deaths are attributed to small balls, deflated latex balloons and small items that break off and end up in a curious child’s mouth. “If there is a way to pull a toy apart, a toddler will find it,” Dr. Scott said. Toddler toys should have solid construction, with no loose parts. The toy should be too big to pass through a toilet paper roll, making it less likely it can lodge in your child’s throat. If you have older children, keep a close watch on their playthings, game pieces, bricks and other items so they aren’t accessible to younger siblings. Toys for older kids should be stored separately from those of younger children.
  • Wheeling and dealing. If you’re buying anything with wheels, purchase appropriate protective gear such as helmets, knee pads and wrist guards. This applies to all ride-on toys, from bicycles to scooters, skateboards and skates. “If it has wheels, a child will fall off of it,” Dr. Scott warned. Protective gear should fit properly and be used every time, no exception. It’s not just scrapes and broken bones you’re guarding against; falls can cause life-threatening head injuries. Statistics from the CPSC show riding toys are associated with more injuries and deaths than any other toys.
  • Staying on track. Monitor children to ensure they’re riding safely and staying away from vehicles, stairs, swimming pools or bodies of water. Even if kids are careful, they may lose control, fail to stop when they should, and fall into a deadly situation. Because maintaining control is so important, be sure to buy the appropriate size when purchasing a bicycle or other riding toy. Buying a size bigger so your child can “grow into it” is asking for trouble because your child may not be able to manage it safely.
  • High volume. Make sure a toy isn’t too loud for your child. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that one in five U.S. children will have some degree of hearing loss by age 12, partly due to toys and items such as music players that emit loud sounds. The noise from some toys and electronic devices can be as loud as a car horn — even louder if a child holds it directly to the ears.
  • String theory. Toys with strings, straps, cords, ribbons and loops can pose a strangulation hazard to young children. Strings and such should be no longer than 8-12 inches. Also, toys should never be hung in cribs or playpens where children can become entangled.
  • Hot button. Beware of button batteries in many of today’s toys. If ingested, they can become lodged in the esophagus, causing serious injury and even death. All batteries in toys should be secured in cases with screws so that kids cannot access them. If your child swallows a button or lithium battery from any source, go immediately to the ER.
  • Power struggle. Battery charging should be supervised by adults. Chargers and adapters can pose shock and burn hazards to children. Pay attention to instructions and warnings on battery chargers — some may lack a mechanism to prevent overcharging. To prevent both burns and electrical shocks, do not give children under age 10 a toy that must be plugged into an electrical outlet. Toys for older kids that do plug in should be labeled UL, meaning they meet safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratories.
  • Paper work. Invest the time to read a toy’s instructions and warning labels. Always follow instructions for assembly. Register your purchase with the manufacturer so you can be notified if there is a recall later. Subscribe to email updates from the Consumer Product Safety Commission at Report unsafe toys or toy-related injuries to the CPSC at

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