Emphasizing safe toy and gift awareness, by Dr. Tedra Smith

December is Safe Toy and Gifts Awareness Month, a time that encourages everyone to consider the age, individual skills, and abilities of a child before gifting a toy, especially for infants and children under 3 years old. In recognition of this month, Assistant Professor Tedra Smith, DNP, CRNP, CPNP-PC, CNE, has a few tips for toy and gift safety. Smith is a pediatric nurse practitioner with a specialization in primary care. 

Safe Toys 2
Assistant Professor Tedra Smith, DNP, CRNP, CPNP-PC, CNE

The holiday season is quickly approaching, and as people are beginning to purchase gifts, I urge you to pause and think about toy safety. Many stores have already lined their shelves with this year’s “must have” toys and I am sure they will be adding more soon. And while toys are useful in assisting a child with development of coordination, language and many other things when the toy is age appropriate, it’s also a time to be cautious of toys that are not age appropriate. This time of year, I think back to December 2014 when my son, MJ, was only 6-months-old. As a parent and an advanced practice nurse, I knew there were some safety precautions I should keep in mind regarding toys as well as in-home decorations. However, I neglected to share this information with my family.

That year, MJ got several toys that were outside of his age range and posed a serious risk if I allowed him to play with them. The one I vividly remember was a goldfish game. It was battery powered and contained colorful plastic fish that would pop up and open their mouths. The game also contained plastic fishing rods that have a tiny ball attached by a string on the end.

Safe Toys 5
At 6 months old, Dr. Smith’s son, MJ, received a game with parts that posed a choking hazard, including small plastic fish (left). She chose to hold onto the toy and give it to him when he was older. (Right) MJ pictured playing the game at age 4.

While, it is a cute and classic toy, it was not appropriate for a 6-month-old. The fish were the perfect size to fit in MJ’s mouth as were the tiny balls on the end of the fishing rods, making both choking hazards.

I proceeded to thank my family member for the gift because it is the thought that counts, and I told them I appreciated the gesture. However, I also discussed the hazards related to the toy and told them that I would put the gift in the closest until MJ was old enough to play with it. I explained the age labels printed on the box and, to my surprise, my family member stated that they never considered reading the label on the box especially since the goldfish game had been around for years. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence. Toys come in colorful packaging, and most people in general consider toys safe.

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MJ pictured at 6 months old.


Additionally, it had been several years since there was a young child in the family, and the safety of certain toys was not commonly discussed. I took the time to explain the purpose of the age label on toys to all my family members and the various hazards associated with gifted toys that are not age appropriate, and I believe that has helped with future gifts. Although the holiday time is usually a fun time of year filled with family activities and overly excited children and adults, it is important to consider the age and type of toys that we purchase to prevent toy related accidents. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Read the age range printed on the package and compare it with the child’s age prior to the purchase.
  • Carefully read and follow the assembly instructions.
  • Look over the toy for any potential hazards such as small removable parts that could be a choking hazard, the toy’s volume if it makes noise, and the secured battery storage area.
  • Read the label to ensure that the package lists the toy as nontoxic.
  • Remember to purchase safety equipment if warranted (bike helmet, knee pads, etc.)
  • Once the child unwraps the gifted toy, ensure that all packaging is discarded appropriately out of the reach of the child and any young siblings.

Toys are purchased because the buyer wants to celebrate and bring joy to the child but this holiday season, the tips above can be used to help ensure the toy you purchase is safe and appropriate for the age of the child.

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