Are the Toys on Your Holiday Shopping List Safe for Kids?

The answer: Not all of them. Make sure everything your children unwrap this year is kid-friendly.

Photo by Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images

A child is treated for toy-related injuries in emergency departments every three minutes. And the number of those injuries increased by 40 percent between 1990 and 2011, according to new research at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

The biggest offender? Scooters and other ride-on toys, according to the findings. The wheeled vehicles were responsible for 35 percent of injuries and 43 percent of hospital admissions. Most of the injuries happened at home, and two-year-olds were the most commonly injured.

So how do we avoid these scary statistics, and prevent a family holiday celebration from ending in the Emergency Room? Next time you hit the stores, remember these expert safety tips.

  • Buy age-appropriate toys. Products are often given age recommendations for safety reasons. Stick to the suggested ages, and keep in mind each child develops at his or her own pace. In other words, if your little one is still sticking everything in his or her mouth, stay away from toys with small pieces regardless of the suggested age range.
  • Be careful with toys that shoot objects. "Eye injuries are common in the emergency department because of guns that shoot darts or other projectiles," says Dr. Marlene Melzer-Lange, medical director of the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin's emergency department and professor of pediatrics in emergency medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
  • Avoid magnets. Small magnets can fascinate small children, but they can also cause serious intestinal damage when ingested, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
  • Got wheels? Invest in a helmet. Scooters and other ride-on toys were deemed the most dangerous of the bunch in the recent Center for Injury Research study, so help lower the risk of injury by buying a helmet when the gift comes with wheels.
  • Keep little brothers and sisters in mind. A toy that may be a perfect fit for a five-year-old could pose a choking risk for a two-year-old. Remember that siblings share (or fight over) toys, so teach the big kids how to store their toys safely and keep unsafe ones away from smaller children.
  • Watch out for toy storage containers. It's not only the toys themselves, but sometimes the containers that hold them, that can also pose serious injury risks. Toy chests with lids can close on little heads or necks, and can cause suffocation if children get trapped inside. Avoid storing Santa's loot in an old-fashioned toy chest with a heavy lid.
  • Throw away plastic packaging, which can lead to suffocation. The same rule applies to festive party balloons.
  • Toss broken toys. Children can choke on small pieces that break off. Toys should be sturdy, particularly toys that will receive hard use, according to Melzer-Lange. "Examine toys frequently for signs of wear or broken pieces," she says. "If a toy breaks, repair it immediately or dispose of it."
  • TIP: Test whether a small toy could pose a choking hazard for children under the age of three by using the cardboard center of a paper towel holder, suggests Melzer-Lange. Hold it vertically and drop the toy into the holder. If the toy slides down through the holder, it is likely to be a choking hazard for a child under three.