Each year, an estimated 250,000 children are hospitalized nationwide with toy-related injuries. In recognition of December as Safe Toys and Gifts Month, Michael Flaherty, DO, critical care physician and injury prevention researcher at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, shares a few tips to help prevent injuries during the holiday season.

  • Consider the child’s age
    Not all toys are created equal. Always check the age recommendations on toys. These recommendations are based on the development, skill level and interest of the child.
  • Become a label reader
    Look for safety labels including “flame retardant/flame resistant” on fabric products. This means the fabric is less likely to catch fire. Look for labels such as “washable/hygienic materials” on stuffed toys and dolls.
  • Keep in mind some of the dangers that certain toys pose to children, depending on their age.
    • For babies and newborns: Never hang toys from ropes, cords or strings in playpens or crib gyms. This can lead to choking or strangling.
    • For children under age 3: Be aware of toys with small parts that may break easily. Button batteries from small electronic devices can be dangerous if children put them in their mouths or swallow them. Check and secure batteries in all toys before allowing your child to play. Small, high-powered magnets from toy sets can also be dangerous if swallowed. Other small parts can lead to choking.
    • Children under age 5: Do not use toys with projectiles, such as toy missiles, darts or arrows. If a toy does have a projectile, make sure it is soft.
    • Children under age 8: Do not play with toys and products with sharp edges, toys made of glass or metal or electronic toys. Check your children’s toys carefully to make sure there is no risk of choking, loose parts, burns or other injuries.
  • Safely clean toys with child-safe, approved cleaners from the Environmental Protection Agency and advice from your child’s pediatrician. Doctors are still learning if and how long COVID-19 lives on surfaces. Clean and disinfect frequently used toys. Ensure toys are fully dried before your child plays with them again.
  • Stay up to date with the Consumer Product Safety Commission recent toy recall announcements that may be dangerous to children.

new study published by Dr. Flaherty in Journal of the American Medical Association found that, between 2009 - 2019, nearly 1,500 children were taken to an emergency room after ingesting high-powered magnets (SREMs). Known as “Buckyballs,” these magnets are 5-10-times more powerful than traditional magnets and can cause severe bowel injury or death when swallowed. 

Injury rates dropped after product recalls, awareness campaigns and ultimately, a ban on the magnets coordinated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Flaherty and his colleagues found an 80% increase in visits to the emergency room for magnet ingestions after the CPSC rule reversal between 2017-2019.

“As the holiday season approaches, product hazards such as these magnets become even more of an important issue. Parents should always read labels carefully before buying any toys, science kits or building sets for their children. We found greatest rate of injury in children under age 6, but any child, adolescent or teen are susceptible to an easily preventable injury,” says Flaherty. 

For more information and the latest safety recommendations and recalls, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission website (link is https://www.cpsc.gov/)