5 Tips to Help You Choose and Give Safe Holiday Toys

Buy toys that are age-appropriate and supervise closely

Mother and child gift

Part of the joy of the holiday season is giving toys to young children. But some toys can present safety hazards.

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Hospital emergency departments treat more than 262,000 toy-related injuries each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Cleveland Clinic Children’s pediatrician Michael Macknin, MD, offers these guidelines to help prevent injuries.

1. Buy toys that are age-appropriate.

The age recommendations on toys are a good starting point. But do consider your child’s interests, physical capabilities and stage of development.

“When a package says ‘Not recommended for children under 8,’ that doesn’t mean every 8-year-old can operate the toy safely,” Dr. Macknin says.

Also, be sure that your older child’s toys are kept away from little ones, and that your older children don’t play with these toys when the younger sibs are around.

2. Buy new and from a reputable dealer.

Used toys may seem like a bargain or strike the nostalgia button with grown-ups who buy them. But used toys also may have loose or missing parts, which makes them unsafe. Used toys also may have been recalled at some point, or may not meet current safety standards.

If you buy toys secondhand, or if your children receive hand-me-downs, check with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Council to make sure the toy hasn’t been recalled for safety reasons.

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With new toys, always remove toy packaging and film coverings right away, as they can present suffocation and choking dangers.

3. Test all small parts, and avoid strings and cords.

Read toy packages closely and do not buy toys with small parts for children younger than age 3. If you have doubts about the size of toy parts, you can measure them with the cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels.

“Any toy or toy part that can fit inside a cardboard paper-towel roll is a choking hazard and should not be given to children under age 3,” Dr. Macknin says. “The store-bought testers are a bit smaller, but I advise parents to err on the side of safety.”

Also, steer clear of products with strings, cords or straps longer than 12 inches, which could result in strangulation.

4. Never give a bike without a helmet that fits.

Helmets are the single most effective piece of safety equipment for riders, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

More children ages 5 to 14 go to emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries than with any other sport. Many are head injuries, the NHTSA says.

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Choose a bike or scooter helmet that fits your child right now – not something they can “grow into,” Dr. Macknin says.

Replace bike helmets after five years, because the plastics and glue degrade.

5. After you give a gift, supervise.

Parents should check over the toys and read all the instructions and warning labels before letting kids play. If the toy needs to be assembled, parents need to follow the directions and make sure the toy is put together properly.

Be sure to actively supervise children, especially young ones, while they enjoy their new toys. This is especially important for any toy that has small parts, moving parts, electrical or battery power, cords, wheels or any other potentially risky components.

“This is more than just being in the same room as your child,” Dr. Macknin says. “It is important to keep your child where you can see him or her, within reach and that you can give the child undivided attention.


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