big_pile_of_vintage_toysAh…Black Friday is upon us. Given some of the shopping safety issues over the past few years, I’ve officially dubbed it Black Eye Friday.

Here at After Hours, we’re actually just as concerned about the safety of the toys you may be shopping for this season. So here are some guidelines to help you keep your children safe this holiday season.

Toys made of fabric should be labeled as flame resistant or flame retardant.

  • Stuffed toys should be washable.
  • Painted toys should be covered with lead-free paint.
  • Art materials should say nontoxic.
  • Crayons and paints should say ASTM D-4236 on the package. This means that the toy has been evaluated by the American Society for Testing and Materials.

If you can avoid it, steer clear of older, hand-me-down toys. Friends and family may mean well and they are certainly cost-effective, but they may not meet current safety standards or may be so worn from play they could break easily, potentially making them hazardous.

Check the sounds made by toys. Some rattles, squeak toys, and musical or electronic toys can be as loud as a car horn. If your child hold this toy to his or her ears, it could contribute to hearing damage.

Avoid lead- or formaldehyde-based toys. This seems obvious, right? Not really. For example, those wooden toys that seem so innocuous could be manufactured with pressed wood, plywood or MDF, which are much cheaper materials but require the use of glue, featuring formaldehyde, during production. Since both lead and formaldehyde have made it onto the list U.S Department of Health no-no list, a good way to avoid this is to purchase eco-friendly toys manufactured in the United States.

Consider his or her age.

The label should tell you if a toy is appropriate for your child’s age. There are guidelines from the CPSC and other groups but we find a parent’s best judgment can be just as effective. You know your child’s temperament, habits, and behavior with new toys.

Age levels on toys and games are determined by safety factors, not intelligence or maturity. So your child may be more advanced than other children their age (what parent doesn’t think so?) but stick to the guidelines.

Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

Size. Make sure toys are, at least, 1.25 inches (3 centimeters) in diameter and 2.25 inches (6 centimeters) in length — so that they can’t be swallowed or become lodged in the windpipe. You can use a small parts tester, but a toilet paper roll can give you an approximate. If it can fit into the tube, it’s too small.

Avoid marbles, coins, balls, and games with balls.

The battery case on any toy should be secured with screws so that kids cannot pry them open. Batteries can not only become lodged in their throats, but battery fluid can alos pose serious risks.

When checking a toy for a baby or toddler, make sure it’s durable enough to withstand a beating and chewing. Avoid these as well:

  • sharp ends or small parts like eyes, wheels, or buttons that can be pulled loose
  • small ends that can extend into the back of the mouth
  • strings longer than 7 inches (18 centimeters)
  • parts that could pinch small fingers

Check the manufacturer’s recommendation for riding toys. They can be used once your child is able to sit up, unsupported, but it doesn’t mean they should be. Rocking horses, wagons and the sort should have safety harnesses or straps, have high walls, and be stable to avoid tipping.

Remember that stuffed animals and toys that are sold or given away at carnivals, fairs, and in vending machines are not required to meet safety standards. Check these for all of the characteristics we mentioned before.

If you have young children in the house, it’s important to remember they often put a lot of objects in their mouth and their older siblings are not always aware that these small components have dropped off their toy.

Grade-Schoolers

Helmets, helmets, helmets. Head injuries are very common for children and totally avoidable. Bikes, scooters, skateboards and skates should always be given with an accompanying helmet and a serious conversation about consistent usage. In fact, you should consider other recommended safety gear, like hand, wrist and shin guards.

Make sure the helmet meets current safety standards and look for CPSC or Snell certification on the labels.

Nets of any sort should be well constructed and attached firmly to their frame or rim so they don’t become strangulation hazards.

Electric toys should be labeled UL, meaning they meet safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratories.

Projectile Toys: For those of us who were given an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle as children, this can be a hard one to swallow. However, BB guns or pellet rifles should not be given to kids under the age of 16. For Grade-Schoolers, darts or arrows should have soft tips or suction cups, not hard points. Make sure toy guns can never be mistaken for a real weapon. Bright colors help this. Most importantly, teach your kids to never point darts, arrows or guns at anyone, even

Reporting Unsafe Toys

Check the CPSC website for the latest information about toy recalls or call their hotline at (800) 638-CPSC to report a toy you think is unsafe. If you have any doubt about a toy’s safety, err on the side of caution and do not allow your child to play with it.

Photo courtesy of Google Images.