How to choose fun and safe toys this holiday season


In this article:

  • Choosing age-appropriate toys ensures they are safe and fun for children.

  • Check labels for safety approval ratings on art supplies and electric toys.

  • Regularly inspect and throw out damaged or old toys that can be safety hazards.

How to choose fun and safe toys this holiday season

The season of giving is upon us and nothing in the world can match the joy and wonder on a child’s face when they unwrap the perfect new toy. With the holiday season in full swing, it’s a great time for a few simple reminders on how to ensure the toys you buy for the children in your life are not only fun but also safe.

“Toys should stimulate a child’s mind and imagination, which is so important to healthy brain development,” says Brian Simmerman, M.D., division chief of pediatrics for Providence Medical Group – Inland Northwest Washington. “Appropriate toys help children boost their gross and fine motor skills, but safety is always the key to whether a toy is a good fit for any child.”

Age isn’t just a number

Dr. Simmerman explains that children play in many different ways, whether it’s through role play with dolls, animals, cars, trains or planes or toys that allow them to build and play creatively, such as blocks and connecting bricks. No matter how the child in your life likes to play, the age recommendation included on toys should be used not only to determine whether a child will be interested in the item but also as a safety guide.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), manufacturers use several criteria when determining the appropriate age for a toy. This includes the skills required to use the item, the type of parts and materials in the toy and its durability. Also taken into consideration are the toy’s components and their anticipated use. Remember that choosing toys that match your child’s age, abilities and interests will ensure they are used with minimal frustration. Even if toys are age-appropriate, when it comes to toy safety nothing can take the place of adult supervision.

Pieces and parts

Children under the age of three should not be allowed to play with toys that contain small pieces that can cause choking. This includes stuffed animals, dolls or other items that have eyes, buttons or other embellishments that can be pulled or chewed off. If an item can fit through an empty toilet paper roll, it can be a choking hazard.

Additionally, toys with cords longer than seven inches and items that contain batteries or magnets should be monitored carefully if younger children are playing with them. Button batteries and small magnets can be harmful or fatal if swallowed or shoved into tiny ear canals or nostrils.   

“We see so many injuries from small objects including batteries, magnets or other tiny objects young children should not have access to,” says Dr. Simmerman. “The American Academy of Pediatrics says to ‘think large’ and ensure that all toys and parts are larger than your child’s mouth to prevent choking.” 

Also be cautious of toys that make loud noises as they can damage hearing, and watch out for projectile toys that can cause eye injuries. If older children are using items such as soft-tipped arrows or Nerf guns, be sure they also wear eye protection and understand they need to aim away from a friend’s face and eyes.

While bicycles, scooters, skateboards and skates can be a great way to get your kid to spend active time outdoors, be sure that your child also has the proper gear to stay safe – especially a properly-fitting helmet. Knee and elbow pads can also provide protection, as well as wrist guards.

What’s it made of?

For young children who still put everything in their mouth, selecting playthings that are free of phthalates, BPA and PVC can provide peace of mind. Dr. Simmerman encourages parents and caregivers to offer children art supplies that foster their creativity and give them ways to express their artistic nature. You can ensure that crayons and other art supplies are safe for young creators by looking for the AP seal on the package, which means the product is certified as non-toxic.

For older kids interested in remote-controlled cars and other electric toys, be sure their choice is labeled UL, meaning they conform to the standards of the Underwriters Laboratory. Dr. Simmerman also recommends limiting video game use to developmentally appropriate games for no more than one hour a day for children over the age of two. 

Plush or stuffed animals should be inspected regularly to ensure the seams are tight to prevent choking on pellets or soft fillers. Be sure that toys made of fabric are washable so that they can hop in the washer if needed. Regularly laundering soft toys can lessen allergy symptoms and ensure your child’s favorite bedtime pals stay sanitary. 

Out with the old

With new and shiny toys soon to arrive, now is the time to go through old toys to ensure that what you have on hand is safe for your little ones. While it can be hard to toss or give away items that are linked to happy times and memories with your child, getting rid of any broken, chipped or damaged toys is essential to preventing mishaps in the playroom. This is especially true for older or antique toys because regulations regarding battery safety, small parts and toxic materials, such as lead-based paint, have changed significantly in the last few decades. If there’s any doubt about a toy’s safety, it’s best to err on the side of caution and remove it from the toy box.

A famous child psychologist believed that play is the work of children. By providing the kids in your life with safe toys and plenty of time to play, run and create, you help them understand the world around them and their role in it. But rest assured, the box a toy comes in will always be the star of the show, and that’s okay too. Just be sure to watch out for sharp edges.

Contributing caregiver


Brian Simmerman, M.D., is the division chief of pediatrics for Providence Medical Group – Inland Northwest Washington.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Children's Health Team is focused on providing insights and clinically-backed advice to help parents take care of their children. From tips on raising respectful boys and girls to immunizations for babies to planning for the teen years, our clinical experts offer an informed perspective to help you and your kids live healthy lives.

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