Walking through the aisles of a store full of toys and just touching one could be fun for a child. But an accompanying parent should always look out for safe toys.
While toys can be an important part of children’s overall development, experts say parents must be aware of some potential risks — from accidental ingestion of button batteries and small, moving parts to inhalation of harmful chemicals found in toys.
Dr Srinivas Midivelly, consultant pediatrician, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad, says that the primary factor parents must be mindful of while selecting toys are any sharp edges that could cause injuries.
What makes some toys unsafe?
According to Dr Midivelly, ingestion of button batteries is one of the top pediatric emergencies seen in day-to-day practice. He says parents should keep a few things in mind:
- Avoid toys with sharp edges and also those with small, moving parts that could be potential choking hazards.
- Button batteries can enter a child’s mouth, nose or ears, causing choking.
“Button batteries are extremely dangerous and there are chances of the child’s mucosa getting burned, the items entering the esophagus or the stomach and causing perforation,” says Dr Midivelly. “They can make a hole in the intestine.”
In case a toy comes with batteries, Dr Midivelly recommends ensuring that the screws holding the batteries in place are properly secure.
Dr Medivelly also recommends checking if the toy has any small, moving parts that could easily be detached and enter a child’s mouth, nose or ears.
“Some shooting toys that have gun barrels and some car toys that have detachable wheels can be easily ingested,” he says. “These are potential choking hazards. Always pick a toy that is age-appropriate. If you’re picking a toy with small, moving parts for a child who is not even two years old, it can easily cause choking and obstruction of the airway. Always pick safe toys with bigger parts.”
Dr Medivelly adds that teething is an important milestone between eight and 12 months, due to which a lot of toddlers in this age group tend to put items they find around the house into their mouth.
Dr Behzad Bhandari, consultant, internal medicine, SRCC Children’s Hospital, Mumbai, says that it is important to childproof your home and ensure that harmful items such as cleaning agents, pesticides and mosquito repellents are kept out of children’s reach.
Toys and unstructured play
Vidhu Goyal, a 36-year-old entrepreneur from Bengaluru, says that she does not buy any overstimulating toys for her three-year-old son Arjun.
“We do not buy battery-operated, overstimulating toys for him,” Goyal tells Happiest Health. “We realised that for a child of that age, happiness comes from doing things.”
The parents noticed that Arjun loved doing things with his hands, so they got him a sensory table — a table of items that stimulates the senses.
“He plays with sand, coloured water and coloured rice, among other things,” Goyal says. “It is a very convenient way for kids to engage in messy, unstructured play. All the five senses — sight, sound or hearing, smell, taste and touch — come alive in this process.”
She adds that Arjun also takes part in daily outdoor play where he rides balance bikes and tricycles.
“When you pick a toy, make sure to pick one that will boost your child’s imagination and make them think,” Dr Medivelly says. “Some toys also help them grow physically — teaching them how to use their muscles properly — and improve their cognitive abilities.”
Read the label to pick safe toys
Dr Bhandari says one rule of thumb for picking safe toys is reading the label thoroughly.
“Usually, the label will have all the details parents need to know — about the age-appropriateness and contents of the toy, safety guidelines, etc,” he says. “[But] many toys available in local markets do not have these labels on them. Avoid buying toys that do not have proper labels outlining all the contents.”
As per a report commissioned by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and published by the Denmark Technical University in 2021, 25% of children’s toys contained harmful chemicals including plasticisers or softeners, flame retardants, colourants and fragrances.
“Ensure that the toys do not contain any harmful materials like lead or formaldehyde,” says Dr Bhandari. “These materials can cause poisoning.”
Dr Bhandari says that teething toys and sensory bubble balls are considered to be safe.
Dr Midivelly recommends that as a rule parents should not give any toys less than 5cm or 6cm [in one dimension] — coins, marbles, balls, etc — to their child. “These are not safe toys for kids as the chance of accidental ingestion in these cases is very high,” he says.
He adds that parents should also familiarise themselves with how to help a child in the case of a pediatric emergency like choking. “Parents must learn emergency procedures before any such incident takes place, Dr Midivelly says. “You never know what could happen, so parents must know how to act whenever the child is facing an emergency.”
Parents must be mindful of any potential safety hazards children’s toys may pose, including from having small parts (which can lead to choking upon accidental ingestion) and toxic materials. They must also focus on how the toys can help the child in overall development, say experts.