Age Appropriateness - Choose toys that are appropriate to the age group using them. Keep in mind the child's interests and skill level as well as age. Follow labels suggesting age safety indexes.
Direct Supervision - Balloons alone account for 7-10 deaths per year in children. Balloons should be stored out of reach of children, should not be inflated by children and should be deflated and discarded after their use. Any broken pieces of ruptured balloons should be discarded immediately to prevent choking in young children.
Small Parts - Balls and other objects that fit into a toilet paper roll or paper towel roll are considered choking size for children under the age of three (3).
Older toys can break to reveal parts small enough to be swallowed or to become lodged in the child's windpipe.
New toys are banned from small parts intended for children under the age of three (3) by law. This includes removable small eyes and noses on stuffed toys and dolls, and small, removable squeakers on squeeze toys.
Sharp Edges - An adult or competent adolescent should directly supervise the use of sharps like knives or scissors required for use with a toy (for example: building a model airplane). Use care with the use of sharps for unpacking toys from their packages.
New toys intended for children under 8 years of age should, by regulation, be free of sharp glass and metal edges.
Projectile (Flying) Toys - Because of face and head injuries (particularly eye injuries) involved with the use of projectile toys (darts, guns, flying toys, etc.) parents should be particularly concerned with use of these toys. Arrows or darts should have a cork tip, rubber suction cups or other protective tips intended to prevent injury.
Cords and Strings - Toys with long strings or cords may be dangerous for infants and very young children. NEVER hang toys with long strings, ribbons, loops or cords in a child's playpen or crib where the child may become entangled causing strangulation.
Loud Noises - Noisemaking toys such as guns and toy caps can produce sounds at high levels can damage hearing. While the law requires the following label, "WARNING -- Do not fire closer than one foot to the ear. Do not use indoors", it is up to parents to enforce or prevent children from misusing these items.
Electric Toys - Electric toys that are not properly made, wired or are misused can shock or burn. These toys must meet mandatory requirements for maximum surface temperature, electrical construction and prominent warning labels.
Electric toys with heating elements are recommended for children over eight (8) years of age only.
Children should be taught to use electric toys properly and cautiously and under adult supervision.
Environmental Issues - It's not only in the use of an age appropriate toy, toy safety can also depend on the environment (for example: a slide placed on pavement). It is essential that parents ensure a safe and proper environment for both indoor and outdoor toys.
Monitor older toys for wear, breakage, splintering edges, peeling paint and sharp surfaces. Throw away older toys that cannot be repaired safely. When repainting toys, use newer paints that are free of lead.
My kids are mixed in age groups - Parents of children in mixed age groups should teach older children to handle toys properly and to put them out of reach of younger siblings. Designate a locked cupboard or drawer for storing toys with small parts. Ensure that toys intended for older children are not left in areas where young children play.
Although governmental regulations have been useful in protecting children from toy-related injuries, parents and caregivers are primarily responsible for ensuring the safety of children. Parents and caregivers can prevent toy related injuries by making informed decisions about the correct type of toy to buy and periodically monitoring children's use of toys to ensure that toys are being used safely.
Excerpts taken from JAMA 1/28/98 Vol. 279 no.4 and the Consumer Product Safety Commission Fact Sheet No. 47. 2001 Updated 10/2/10