How to Observe Safe Toys and Gifts Month

For many cultures and beliefs, December is a time when gifts are given in abundance, to celebrate, to congratulate, and to show gratitude for people we spend time with. The safety and age appropriateness of gifts isn't always uppermost in the gift purchaser's mind though, mostly because we trust that the retailer is providing items that are already certified as safe and also because sometimes we're not totally clued into the needs or age specific particulars of the gift recipients.

In the United States, December is observed as "Safe Toys and Gifts Month" as a means for alerting us to the need to be careful when making our toy and gift choices, and to prompt us to keep in mind their safety and suitability. Knowing what to look out for can make a big difference in preventing possible injuries from well-intentioned gifts. This article provides an overview of the things to bear in mind when shopping for those toys and gifts.


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    Buy age appropriate toys. Children soon let you know if you've purchased them a toy that's below their age group and most shoppers take great care to avoid such a slip-up. Yet, strangely we're prone to thinking that purchasing toys that are meant for an older age group is fine, as if somehow it's suggesting that the child in question is smarter than their age group already, or they'll "grow into it". The problem is that toys are age graded for safety reasons as much as for avoiding frustration and undesirability. Many toys aimed at older children contain small pieces which could be swallowed by a younger child. Toys for older children can also contain items that require responsible handling. For example, the popular Beyblade Battle Tops would be appropriate for an 11-year-old but not for a six-year-old.
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    Be aware of what's not considered safe this season. It's a really good idea to keep an eye on a consumer watchdog site to find out which toys have been recalled recently so that you can avoid buying them. Many consumer groups and government entities will send free email updates to your in-box alerting you to recalls and it only takes a few minutes to glance through them. If you're not sure, contact them for more information about specific product recalls before seeking to purchase the product.
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    Read the warnings and safety precautions accompanying the toy. These will give you a good idea of suitability and safety issues for the child in question. This requires some contextual thinking on your behalf, given your knowledge of the child; for example, the warning may indicate to you that a child who is quiet and still will use the toy sensibly, while a child who is restless, always taking things apart and is prone to throwing things might misuse the toy. Other things to bear in mind when reading the warnings and safety precautions include:
    • Small pieces. Toys with small pieces are always unsuitable for children under 3. Even if you're purchasing the gift for an older child, if there is a sibling under 3, can you be certain that the younger sibling won't have access to the toy?
    • Fire hazards. If your home has hazards such as open fires, old and open radiator heaters, etc., think twice before purchasing flammable toys.
    • Adult supervision. If a safety precaution suggests that the toy requires adult supervision, are you able to ensure that supervision in your household or do you know for sure it'll happen if giving the gift to another household? For example, a toy like the "Easy Bake Oven" needs adult supervision and assistance with the cooking. Is that something you're willing to do every time your child wants to play with it? And are you able to ensure that your child won't try to use it when you're not about (for example, by storing it away, etc.).
    • Sharp edges. Not only young children can experience problems with sharp edges but so can older children if they have a marked history of hurting themselves. Avoid giving toys with sharp edges to young children under any circumstances and for older children, be alert to how they normally interact with their toys.
    • Fake food gifts. For children, some fake food gifts are very dangerous because the children mistake them for food and try to consume them. For example, glass candies are enticing because they're pretty but they're dangerous if a child bites one. The only fake foods that are suitable for children are those marked clearly as made for children, using non-toxic materials and sized accurately for the age group.
    • Toxic items. Avoid any toys that should be non-toxic but are not (check the labels). Items such as crayons, bath products, markers, paints, facepaint, etc. should be non-toxic.
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    Read the instructions accompanying any toys. Do they make sense? Are they clear? Are you left with any questions? If you cannot understand the instructions and the retailer isn't able to help you out, put the toy back on the shelf and let the retailer know that you don't consider the instructions adequately clear to ensure the toy's safe use. You might also write the manufacturer if you think this would help ensure clearer instructions for other purchasers.
    • Read all tags that are attached to stuffed animals. Most stuffed toys are restricted to ages three and up because they usually contain small pieces that a child can choke on if removed (such as eyes, noses, embellishments, and so forth). If you're giving a stuffed toy to a child who is an infant or under two, please be sure that the animal is smaller in height and "mass" than the child and that it is specifically labeled as suitable for a small child.
    • Examine the pictures of toys on boxes. The pictures can help provide you with an idea of the suitability of a toy along with the age group indicator. Knowing the child in question, use the pictures to discern the appropriateness of the toy and how safe it will be when given to the recipient. For example, a plastic brick building product might contain small pieces that a kid could place in his or her mouth and you might need to ask the retailer for a similar product that is more suitable for the younger age group.
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    Avoid getting anything that has excess string or cords, such as slingshots. Never consider BB guns as toys for kids – not only are these not kid's toys, they can take out an eye all too easily and leave the victim blinded. Equally, avoid buying toys that shoot off or send off pieces.
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    Buy for durability. With small children, durability is essential. Check that the item cannot be broken easily and ask what happens if the item is broken. You want to avoid any toy or product that breaks into shards, splinters, sharp pieces, or releases anything toxic.
    • If purchasing sunglasses for a small child, be sure that the lenses are approved for children and can withstand the pressure of being twisted, chewed, and sat on.
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    Inspect all gifts as children open them. if the gift(s) are from someone outside the family, for example a neighbor or schoolmate, it's a good idea to inspect the gift quickly to ensure that it's safe to play with. If you discover that it isn't, distract your child with another gift and try to either remedy the unsafe aspect (such as removing small pieces) or quickly replacing it with something else more suitable. If there are tears, tell your child that the toy needs repair or safekeeping for later and return to distracting him or her with the many other toys he or she has no doubt received, or go and play somewhere else together.
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    Take allergies and food or chemical sensitivities into account when purchasing gifts for any age group. Both children and adults can be allergic or highly sensitive to a range of food gifts, especially such food as nuts, MSG infused food, chocolate, and so forth. Ask them if you don't already know, and avoid purchasing such food items as gifts. Other gift items that can cause allergies or sensitivities include perfumes, scented products, and essential oils.
    • Avoid giving nuts, toffees, and other hard candies to young children as gifts. They can become choking hazards and are not good gifts for children under 5.
    • If in doubt, don't purchase a gift that has potential allergy or sensitivity issues.
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    Take time to explain how to use the toy or gift to a child or to anyone who needs instruction. If your kid is aware how to use the toy properly and is aware of how easily it can be broken or ruined, then they are alerted to taking care of it in advance.
    • Remove all broken toys and gifts immediately. If they cannot be fixed safely, dispose of them or recycle them where appropriate.
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    Ask all gift recipients to be conscious of where they've placed their gifts after opening them if it's a family event, such as Christmas. A lot of things happen when there is a family gathering and family members and friends might feel tempted to leave opened gifts in places that are easily accessible to a child. If you don't want to ask them, at least do a sweep of the present-opening room before leaving it to attend to other activities, and put all small and child unsafe gifts out of reach. Be sure to let guests and family members know what you've done with their goodies!
    • Keep this in mind also if there are pets that may have access to the gift-opening room while it is unattended. Don't leave anything laying around that could be dangerous to Fido or Fluffy in any way.


  • While wrapping gifts, make sure any glass or valuable material is tightly wrapped in bubblewrap - not paper or plastic. Always use bubblewrap when sending gifts in the mail; it can also be helpful to indicate on the packaging that it is fragile and contains glass. This will help the recipient know to take extra care when opening, especially if they hear clinking sounds.
  • In the USA, look out for the letters "ASTM", which stands for the American Society for Testing and Materials. Its presence alerts you to the fact that the product is considered to meet national safety standards set by the ASTM. In other countries, similar standards and testing bodies exist; do an online search or call your local consumer affairs office.
  • Always supervise young children's play and remove objects that are unsafe for them. Have firmly observed family rules about toys meant for older children; ask older children to put away their toys and objects to ensure the safety of younger children in the household.
  • On Christmas Day, have a trash bag handy before opening gifts. Have everyone open a gift in a circle and then gather all the rubbish afterwards. Repeating this cycle will keep the area clean of clutter and will prevent any mishaps of a child or pet playing with ribbon the wrong way, or having Great Aunt Martha trip over it when carrying the roast in.

Things You'll Need

  • Instructions
  • Warning or safety precaution labels

Sources and Citations

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