The dangers of child's play?
Parents across the country are rightly concerned about the toys their children are playing with. The news that millions of Chinese-made toys (including some from the Cars, Polly Pocket and Barbie ranges) are potentially dangerous, is frightening. But it's best to try not to panic.
The good news is that most toys are safe – and that we have some of the toughest toy safety standards in the world working to keep them that way. Even so, thousands of children a year are treated in A&E for toy-related injuries. One big issue is that many toys and games are imported from other countries, where safety standards and quality control may not be a priority. From the choking risk posed by small toys to toxic chemicals, those seemingly innocent looking dolls, trucks and trains that litter your home could be harmful. Apart from staying up-to-date on product recalls, what hazards should you be looking out for and what can you do to protect your child?
Check for small parts
Most toy-related injuries and deaths are due to choking, so be guided by labels warning that toys are unsafe for children under three. Balloons are also a hazard.
• If you have an older child and a crawling baby or toddler, it can be a lethal combination – be vigilant and ensure that any older siblings don’t leave small toys or balls where your baby can reach them.
• A good way of checking for hazards is to get right down on the floor and check it out from your baby’s point of view: you’ll see things you may well miss while standing up.
• Don’t use multi-coloured rugs or carpeting on the floor of any room where your baby and older child play: it’ll be much easier to spot small objects against a plain background.
Ban toys with cords
That yo-yo your tween loves to play with could be risky for his baby or toddler sibling.
• Check any toys for tie or pull along cords, string and elastic.
• Remember to check dolls’ clothes and dressing-up clothes too.
Lose the loud noises
Ever winced at the racket emitted by your child’s electronic toys or toy fire engine? You’re right to: some toys on sale make sounds exceeding 100 decibels (hearing damage can result from prolonged exposure to sounds over 85 decibels).
• Check that any toy you intend buying for your child has volume control – if it doesn’t, bypass it, and if it’s a gift, remove the batteries or tape over the speakers.
• Be careful too about MP3 players for tweens and teens: some models may not have any means of limiting the volume to safe levels.
Ongoing publicity about toys decorated with lead paint, which contains harmful chemicals, or tiny easily swallowed magnets, as well as children’s jewellery that contains large quantities of lead, is terrifying for any parent. While it may be relatively easy to spot a choking risk, toxic chemicals are hidden hazards.
• Wherever possible, avoid toys made of PVC in favour of wooden or cloth toys.
• Check toys for magnets and confiscate them if you have a baby – if ingested, magnets can kill.
• If your tween has a collection of kid jewellery make sure she plays with it safely, keeps the pieces well away from younger children and doesn’t get into the habit of sucking on necklace charms that could contain lead.
• Be aware too that children's cosmetics and art supplies may also contain harmful chemicals.
• Reject hand-me-downs – your child’s grandparents may offer toys you played with as a child which have been lovingly stashed in the attic until you became a parent yourself. Older toys are far more likely to incorporate lead paint and toxic chemicals and may also have more obvious dangers like sharp edges.
Toys that go…
We’ve all seen them at the playground: motorized small-scale replicas of popular cars and trucks, or mini-motorbikes. But even pedal cars and push along scooters can be dangerous – supervise your child at all times when he is playing with them.
• Ensure your child wears an approved bike safety helmet and knee/elbow pads if he is playing with any toy that rolls or trundles, however safe and stable it may appear.
• Older children should wear protective gear for cycling, scattering, skating or skateboarding.
Many toys and play items are made with basic fabrics that could catch fire if exposed to a naked flame.
• Check the labels of any dressing up costumes to make sure they are made from flame-retardant materials.
• Bear in mind too that cosmetics and ‘glitter’ body or hair sprays aimed at tweens may be flammable.
It’s tempting to shop online and bypass the queues during the holidays, but be sure to check that any toy you order is safe for your child’s age group. If you’re at the shops, be sensible when it comes to choosing toys.
• Stick to reputable retailers (less well-known stores or discount/auction websites may import toys that do not comply with safety regulations).
• If online toy stores offer an option to shop by age, use it.
• When in a shop, avoid toys that look poorly made or flimsy, even if they’re a well-known brand. Don’t buy soft toys with eyes or noses that might detach and if your child is under eight to ten years of age, steer clear of toy stoves that incorporate heating elements.
• Toddler in tow when you’re out toy shopping? Watch that they can’t access toy bins or shelves stocked with small toys.