A guide to buying safe children’s toys

A toy train

While many toys contain some obvious information to help people pick appropriate gifts for the young ones in their lives, it’s important to consider things that might not be as apparent. UChicago Medicine pediatric safety experts Matt Louzon, CPST; Poj Lysouvakon, MD; and Princy George, MD have the following tips for those looking to purchase gifts for babies and young children.

  1. Read the labels. These have important information on how to use a toy and for which ages the toy is safe. You can also use these to show your child how to use toys correctly.
  2. Follow the age recommendations. Age recommendations offer guidelines on:
    • The safety of the toy for a specific age
    • The ability of a child to play with the toy
    • The ability of a child to understand how to use a toy
    • The needs and interests at various levels of a child’s development
  3. Consider the size. Make sure all toys and parts are larger than your child’s mouth to prevent choking.
  4. Avoid toys that shoot objects into the air. These toys can cause serious eye injuries or choking.
  5. Avoid toys that are too loud. Loud, noise-making toys can damage your child’s hearing.
  6. Choose stuffed toys that are well-made. Be sure all the parts are tight. Seams and edges should be secure. Toys that have small bean-like pellets or stuffing can cause choking or suffocation if swallowed. Choose toys that are machine washable, and remove any loose ribbons or strings to avoid strangulation.
  7. Buy plastic toys that are sturdy. Toys made from thin plastic may break easily.
  8. Avoid toys with toxic material. Toxic material may cause poisoning. Look for a “nontoxic” label.
  9. Avoid hobby kits and chemistry sets for any child younger than 12 years. These can cause fires or explosions and may contain dangerous chemicals. Make sure your older child knows how to safely handle these toys.
  10. Electric toys should be “UL Approved.” UL, LLC is a non-profit, third-party global safety certification company based out of Northbrook, Illinois.
  11. Be careful with crib toys. Soft objects increase the risk of entrapment, suffocation or strangulation and should be kept out of the crib. Any hanging crib toy (such as mobiles or crib gyms) should be out of the baby's reach and must be removed when your baby first begins to push up on their hands and knees or when the baby is five months old, whichever occurs first.
  12. Be careful with small magnets. If swallowed, magnets can cause bowel obstruction (blockage) and infection and can lead to death.
  13. Keep an eye out for any toy recalls. These can be found on the Consumer Product Safety Commision website or KidsInDanger.org.

Matt Louzon, CPST is the program coordinator for the University of Chicago Pediatric Injury Prevention Program.

Poj Lysouvakon, MD is a pediatric physician at Comer Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago Medicine. He is the director of the University of Chicago Pediatric Injury Prevention Program.

Princy George, MD is a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Comer Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Medicine. Her academic interest is childhood injury prevention.