‘Tis the Season for Child Safety

By Evan Koch

Child safety is what pediatric emergency physicians want at the top of everyone’s shopping lists this holiday season.

“This is a time of year where it’s really easy to get caught up in the excitement of the season and overlook potential safety hazards of toys as kids have more access to new and unfamiliar toys that may not be age appropriate,” said Robert Lapus, MD, Medical Director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and an associate professor at UTHealth.

“Most of the injuries we see related to improper toy use are preventable,” said Gabriella Cardone, MD, a pediatric emergency physician affiliated with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. “The onus is really on adults to be more attentive around children than usual during the holidays because there are so many distractions and unfamiliar settings for kids.”   

With the help of the 34th edition of Trouble in Toyland, the Texas Public Interest Research Group’s annual toy safety survey, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital has made a toy safety list every adult should be checking twice.

  • Practice safety FIRST – Safer holidays make for happier holidays

Read and adhere to all safety and warning labels on new toys, regardless of the age of the child receiving them.

Make sure to buy and use necessary safety gear. The most common example of a toy that should be used with safety gear is a bicycle. Hundreds of thousands of children are treated in hospital emergency rooms each year for bicycle-related injuries. Wearing a bike helmet can reduce the risk of head injury an estimated 60 to 85 percent, according to several studies.

Have an adult assemble toys and check for any loose staples, screws or batteries that could be harmful.

  • Select age-appropriate toys

Check the recommendations on the box or packaging and research to see if there are age-appropriate versions of popular toys and games.

Keep in mind what is appropriate for a child’s neuro-psychological development, especially for children with special needs and psychological disorders.

Store toys intended for older children in a place younger children can’t access.

  • Be present and supervise the use of the toys

Toy safety is the responsibility of every parent and adult present. Most toy-related injuries can be avoided by an adult simply being present and alert.

Set rules for how, when and where toys can be used. This is especially important with any type of projectile toy, like a BB, pellet, or paintball gun. Make sure children know to never use these without adult supervision.

Check toys for broken parts, sharp points or jagged edges that could become unsafe during play.

Take an inventory of toys a visiting infant, toddler or child may have access to and identify the safety hazards ahead of time.

  • Identify choking and swallowing hazards

A good rule of thumb is to keep toys and other non-food items that can fit through a toilet paper roll tube away from infants and toddlers. These items are small enough to swallow or become lodged in their throats.

Be aware of game pieces, detachable parts of toys and parts of toys that may break off easily. Test out the toy before letting an infant or toddler play with it.

Keep batteries and magnets away from small children. These can be extremely harmful if swallowed. Depending on the object, these items can potentially damage esophageal tissue or become lodged in the digestive tract.

  • Realize the risk of uninflated balloons

Uninflated balloons and balloon pieces are primary causes of suffocation deaths with toys, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It is recommended to keep uninflated balloons away from children younger than 8. 

  • Test noise levels and avoid excessive noise

Remember that toddlers and infants are more sensitive to loud noises. Always test the sounds and volume of a toy before giving it to a child.

  • Check for toxic materials

Lead, boron and cadmium are three of the more common harmful toxins found in toy production. Check to see if these toxins are in toys before you purchase them. Substances like “slime” and silly putty should have ingredients listed on their packaging.

  • Be a cybersecurity guard

Be aware of the privacy and browsing settings on any smart device given to a child or adolescent and learn how to access them. These settings can limit accessibility help mitigate exposure to harmful content. 

For more information on pediatric health and safety, visit http://childrens.memorialhermann.org/. For information on when to take a child to a pediatric emergency room, visit http://childrens.memorialhermann.org/patients-families/when-to-go-to-the-emergency-room/.

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