Don’t Trust an Old Sack for the Perfect Gift: Questions to Ask Before Buying That Toy

Gift giving season is upon us, and for little ones, that means toys. Sure, teens and adults are happy with gift cards or cash, but children are rarely thrilled by something so abstract, preferring the immediate satisfaction of a toy they can play with right away. Even if you don’t have children to shop for, with so many children in need, many of us buy and donate to a toy drive. So it seems most of us are probably toy shopping at some point this time of year!

And that can be stressful. Walking down the toy aisles at your local supercenter may seem a bit overwhelming with all the options, and with all the new technology, toys are far more complex than they were 20 years ago. When confronted by all this variety, safety may be at the back of your mind, but it shouldn’t be.

John Hopkins Medicine released statistics showing that over 200,000 children are treated in emergency rooms every year for toy-related injuries, and 3% of those require hospital care. Although the majority of incidents involve riding toys such as tricycles or scooters, other injuries can be caused by choking, drowning or suffocation. Choking in particular is a risk for children under three years of age, as young ones are more likely to put small pieces in their mouth and their airways are smaller.

Yes, these are scary statistics, putting a damper on that toy shopping, right? But the toys you pick out this year don’t have to be a part of these statistics or put anyone in the hospital. Check out the simple questions below to keep in mind during your stroll through the dolls and dinosaurs, and you’ll be sure to err on the side of safety while shopping:

  • What is the recommended age? Keep in mind the age of all the children in the house, because you never know who might be able to get their hands on that toy.
  • Does it have sharp points or edges? When kids play rough you don’t want anyone poking an eye out.
  • Are there any long cords or strings? This may not be the first safety concern to come to mind, but cords or strings could get wrapped around someone and cause serious injury or suffocation.
  • Is it small enough to fit in a mouth? Or are there small pieces that could break off? Especially with toddlers, if it can go in a mouth, it will go in a mouth.
  • Are the magnets safely secured in plastic? See the previous question, since swallowed magnets can be even more dangerous than swallowed plastic.
  • Is it loud, and can the volume be turned off or lowered? Toys with without adjustable volumes aren’t just annoying; they can damage hearing as well.
  • Is it nontoxic? Some countries have stricter regulations on materials than others, so make sure any toy you pick up is made safely and reliably by checking where it was made.
  • If it’s made from fabric, is it washable? Spills happen all the time, and no one wants a favorite toy ruined forever by a favorite juice, plus fabrics can harbor bacteria in a way plastic can’t.
  • Are the batteries securely screwed in? If you can pry them out without a screwdriver, it might be best to put the whole toy back.
  • Perhaps most important, was it recalled? Doing some research online may save you from giving a toy that shouldn’t be sold in the first place.

Yes, this is a lot to think about for just a simple gift. But if you ask yourself all these questions while shopping, you’ll walk away with a safe, reliable, well-made toy that can last for years. And if you practice by questioning toy purchases, think of how many other purchases you could make with the same safety principles, creating established, lasting habits of safe buying?

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