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Tips for Choosing Toys That Will Keep Kids Safe

Posted on Nov 22, 2017

Jennifer Arnold, M.D., M.Sc., FAAP and Petra Vybiralova at the 2017 Trouble in Toyland press conference.

With the holiday season set to be in full swing, it’s highly likely that you’ve already started thinking of new toys and gadgets to get the children in your life. As you set out to the malls or browse online, keep in mind some toys can have hidden dangers, exposing children to dangerous chemicals or injury-causing hazards.

At this year’s annual toy safety news conference hosted by Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, experts urged families to pay close attention to information available online to guide them in choosing safe toys this holiday season.

“Each year more than 250,000 children are treated in hospital emergency departments for toy-related injuries,” says Jennifer Arnold, M.D., M.Sc., FAAP, medical director of simulation at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. “That could be a poisoning or it could be a chemical burn such as from a battery being ingested. One of the things we especially worry about is magnets, not only for the choking hazard but because swallowing more than one has the potential to damage the intestines.”

“Labeling requirements and structurally safer toys help prevent some of these injuries,” adds Petra Vybiralova, Safe Kids coordinator at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. “However each year we still find toys that might be too noisy, mislabeled, or choking hazards.”

Every year the Florida Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund releases “Trouble in Toyland,” an annual report on toy safety. The survey has resulted in more than 150 recalls and regulatory actions during its more than 30 years.

The latest survey, now available on the Florida PIRG site, looks at toys recalled from October 2016 to October 2017 and investigates if these toys are still available for purchase online. No toys were found online, however caregivers should still look for recalled toys that may be in their home.

Toy recalls happen for a variety of reasons, but they can be organized into a few main categories:

  • Choking hazards from small parts including small balls/marbles–If a toy part can fit through a standard toilet paper roll it is a potential choking hazard for children age 3 and younger. Balloons and small balls should not be given to children younger than 6.
  • Magnets–Magnets are becoming smaller and more powerful. When two or more are ingested they can bind together and cause serious intestinal damage. Keep magnetic items intended for adults, as well as toys with magnets that could come loose, away from children.
  • Batteries–If swallowed, batteries can leak acid causing severe injury. Button batteries are in many toys and some greeting cards and are easy for young children to swallow. Additionally, some toys have rechargeable batteries that require USB charging cables which can cause burns if overheated.
  • High levels of chemicals–Phthalates (often found in certain plastics) and lead (commonly in paint and jewelry items) can adversely affect development. This year, high levels of lead were found in some fidget spinners.
  • Excessive noise–Young children have delicate eardrums and toys that are too loud can damage hearing. If it sounds too loud, it probably is.
  • Other hazards such as falls or lacerations resulting from the toy breaking.   

As toys become more high tech, there is an increasing concern about child privacy law violations. Toys that interact with children over an unsecured Bluetooth connection pose the risk of data collection and may be vulnerable to hacking. Consumers should exercise caution when considering these toys.

Consumers can also use these resources to search for and report unsafe toys:

While it is easy to track down consumers who purchased items such as automobiles and car seats when they are recalled, many caregivers may not know if a toy they own or are considering purchasing has been recalled unless they are diligently checking websites such as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website.

It takes the combined effort of advocates, legislators and parents/caregivers to ensure that playtime is safe for all children. 

If a Child Has Swallowed …

Call 911 or go to an emergency center right away. Do not try to induce vomiting or allow your child to eat or drink.

Take your child to an emergency center immediately, especially if there is a possibility they swallowed more than one.

Other Objects
Responsive Infant

  • A choking infant cannot breathe or make a sound and may have a cough with no sound.
  • To remove the object, give up to five back slaps.
  • If the object does not come out, turn the child over and give up to five chest thrusts.
  • Repeat until the infant can breathe, cough or cry or the infant becomes unresponsive. 

Responsive Child
A child who is choking may make the sign for choking and cannot breathe, speak, cough or make sounds.

  • Ask if the child is choking. If he or she indicated yes, tell the child you are going to help.
  • Give abdominal thrusts just above the belly button until the object is forced out, the child can breathe or make sounds or the child becomes unresponsive. 

Unresponsive Infant or Child

  • Shout for help
  • Use a cell phone on speaker mode to call 911 as you begin CPR (30 chest compressions followed by 2 breaths)
  • Repeat until the child responds or help arrives

The American Heart Association offers CPR training courses, which may be useful for anyone who takes care of a child. Find one near you.

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