Tips for toy safety and an age-by-age buying guide

Karon Warren
Oct. 26, 2017
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Every  three minutes , one child in the U.S. is treated in an emergency room for a toy-related injury. So, with that fact in mind — and at least one  toy purchase on your horizon — how do you make sure you're buying the safest toy for your little one?

Here are five tips to help you buy the safest toy possible — plus, a general guide of what to look for within each age group.

Tips to keep in mind

1. Avoid knock-offs

Everyone hopes to find the best toys for the lowest prices, but cheap isn't always better. According to Jonas Sickler of, knock-off or generic brands often skirt safety testing and may contain hazardous materials or break easily.

2. Check for recalls

More often than not, the general public never hears about the recall of products in the toy industry. Therefore, before making any purchase or passing along toys received from others, check sites like and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to see if a recall has been issued.

3. Beware of second-hand purchases

Buying second-hand items from others, whether online or in person, could save you money; however, these items may not meet current safety standards or could be subject to recall. In addition, if the original packaging is missing, you will need to research the manufacturer's warnings and age recommendations to determine if the toy is appropriate for your child.

4. Don't buy with blind trust

Per W.A.T.C.H., consumers shouldn't be lulled into a false sense of security that a toy is safe because of a familiar name brand on a package or due to its availability at a well-know retailer. Many manufacturers provide inconsistent or incomplete safety warnings on toys, which could lead to injuries. Likewise, there have been numerous instances where recalled toys were still available for purchase online, even at reputable retailers like

5. Be a proactive inspector

Whether buying toys online or at a retail store, parents should thoroughly inspect a toy and its packaging prior to putting it into the hands of a child, according to W.A.T.C.H. For instance, look for small parts, projectiles, toxic substances (especially for an age group that might eat it), rigid materials, toys that break into smaller pieces and dangling strings.

An age-by-age buying guide

Newborn to 3 Months

  • Avoid: Pillows, blankets and "loveys" with small blankets attached to stuffed animals that could be a suffocation hazard.
  • Look for: Toys with a mirror that promote your child's self-discovery.

4 to 7 Months

  • Avoid: Toys with sharp edges or points with which your child could cut himself or others.
  • Look for: Toys with soft edges and materials.

8 to 12 Months

  • Avoid: Toys with music or sounds that have the potential to damage your child's hearing.
  • Look for: Push-pull toys that promote your child's balance and muscle development.

1 Year Old

  • Avoid: Toys with long strings, straps or cords that pose a risk of strangulation.
  • Look for: Balls that promote your child's gross motor skills, dexterity and hand-eye coordination when bounced, rolled or thrown.

2 Years Old

  • Avoid: Toys with small, removable parts, or ones easily broken into smaller pieces, all of which pose choking risks.
  • Look for: Toys with small or removable parts too large to fit in your child's mouth, generally at least 1 1/4 inches in diameter and 2 1/4 inches in length.

3 Years Old

  • Avoid: Toys with magnets, which pose choking risks.
  • Look for: Role-play toys, such as doctor's kits, dolls and play kitchens.

4 Years Old

  • Avoid: Crayons or finger paints that are NOT marked as "nontoxic."
  • Look for: Crayons and paints with "ASTM D-4236" on the package, which ensures they have been tested for safety.

5 Years Old

  • Avoid: Toys with easy access to batteries that could lead to choking, internal bleeding and chemical burns.
  • Look for: Toys with battery compartments that are secured with screws.

6 Years Old

  • Avoid: Toy cap guns with caps that could cause serious burns.
  • Look for: Card and board games that teach fair play, following rules, taking turns and good sportsmanship.

7 Years Old

  • Avoid: Toys with propelled darts or other projectiles that could cause eye injuries.
  • Look for: Musical instruments that help develop your child's fine motor and listening skills.

8 Years Old

  • Avoid: Plastic toys that are flimsy and could break and/or splinter during rough play.
  • Look for: Microscopes, binoculars and chemistry sets that promote discovery and problem-solving.

9 Years Old

  • Avoid: Water guns with strong-force capabilities that could cause eye injuries.
  • Look for: Brightly colored toy guns that cannot be mistaken for real weapons.

10 Years Old

  • Avoid: Spray string that can cause eye irritation and a type of pink eye called chemical conjunctivitis.
  • Look for: Electronic toys marked UL, ensuring they meet Underwriters Laboratories safety standards.
Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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