Toys That Top the Naughty List

Our pediatric expert shares what to skip this holiday season.
Young child playing with wooden toy car

When shopping for holiday gifts for kids, it often seems that the biggest worry is whether they already have the gift, or if it’ll capture their attention for more than a few minutes.

But sometimes it’s good to remember the basics, like whether the gift is fundamentally safe. Take, for instance, this startling statistic: According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, approximately 1 in 10 pediatric eye injuries seen in the emergency department are caused by toys.

Here in our region, Monica Benjamin, DNP, a nurse practitioner for pediatric primary care at The University of Vermont Health Network – Porter Medical Center, says she sees a few children every year with toy-related injuries, usually the result of swallowing small parts from a toy or a game.

Benjamin, herself the mother of a four-year-old, offers the following suggestions on what to avoid when choosing gifts in order to keep little ones safe.

Toy Safety Tips

Sharp things. Seems obvious, but these can show up in unexpected places, says Benjamin. “For example, even the game ‘Operation,’ which we all grew up with, has pointy tweezers.”

Tiny pieces. Along with board games, other likely culprits are small Lego pieces and doll accessories, especially from the miniature doll “surprise sets” that are popular right now. These toys present swallowing and choking hazards for toddlers and curious children who often like to experiment with putting things in their mouths. 

Water beads. They’re a super-satisfying sensory toy, but they can also be easily swallowed. While they may start out smaller than a marble, Benjamin says, they can expand in a child’s intestinal tract, possibly causing a blockage.

Toys with small magnets or button-style batteries. If multiple magnets are swallowed, says Benjamin, they can connect with each other inside the windpipe or intestinal tract, so – like the water beads – they can become a much bigger problem once ingested. And batteries can leak acid into a child’s gut. “If these objects are swallowed, it’s likely going to result in emergency surgery,” says Benjamin.

Gift-Giving Tips

If you’re buying something with wheels, buy the helmet, too. Gift-givers should provide padding and protection for toys like hoverboards, skateboards, rollerblades, bikes and scooters. “All of these things are super fun, but kids need to wear a helmet. Wrist guards are also a good idea for hoverboards and rollerblades/roller skates.”

Be diligent. Parents and caregivers should check all toys for age, skill level, and developmental appropriateness before allowing them to be played with, and don’t let holiday excitement cause you to let your guard down.

Don’t just think about the child you’re buying for. “If the 5-year-old is going to be playing with it, the 6-month-old may have access as well,” Benjamin says. “We usually tell our kids we want them to share, but some things are not to be shared.”

Be honest. “If you receive a gift that isn’t appropriate, you can always tell the giver, ‘Thank you for this gift, but we’ve decided to pass it along to another family,’” suggests Benjamin. You can also put it away until the child is older.

Be proactive. Many online retailers have shareable wish-list tools built into their websites or apps. Help family members and friends shop by giving them ideas for appropriate, safe gifts.

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