We all know to keep sharp objects and meds out of reach of our kids, but seemingly harmless toys can turn deadly fast. Is your kid playing with one of those toys right now?
It’s the kind of story that makes every parent’s heart race: On Monday, March 5, a 3-year-old boy in Australia choked to death on a small plastic ball as his mom desperately tried to save him. We all know to keep knives, sharp scissors, and medications out of reach of our kids, but how can something as innocent as a plastic ball turn so deadly?
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), toys such as small balls cause a handful of child deaths each year in the United States. “Many of these injuries occur when there is a child over age 3 in the house, with a sibling under age 3,” says Neal Cohen, a consumer safety lawyer in Washington, DC. “Be careful to keep the smaller toys away from the younger child, and never assume that all the toys in your house are in the same condition they were when you bought them. You should regularly go through the deepest, darkest corners of the playroom and get rid of any small pieces that may have broken off.”
Here are 6 common toys that are shockingly dangerous to younger kids—and even some older ones.
Small balls and marbles
Babies and toddlers are notorious for putting anything within reach into their mouth, which is why the CPSC strictly regulates what size toys can be marketed for children under age three (anything with parts smaller than 1.5-inches in diameter is a no-go). Marbles and small rubber balls are particularly dangerous, as a child can pop them in his mouth, causing choking or asphyxiation, which is what happened when that little Australian boy played with a rubber bouncy ball. If you want to check whether your child’s toys are too small to be safe, you can measure them in a choking-hazard cylinder, available for about $10.
These extra-strong magnets, which usually come in sets for creating shapes and sculptures, are a major hazard—especially if your child swallows two or more. The magnets can be attracted to each other through intestinal walls, trapping them in place and causing severe pain, intestinal damage, and even death. In many cases, they need to be removed by surgery. “These injuries tend to happen with older tweens and even teens,” says Cohen. “They might be joking around that the magnet is a tongue piercing, and then accidentally swallow it but are too embarrassed to say anything."
Colorful balloons are a staple of every toddler’s birthday party, and they’re perfectly safe once they’re blown up, but never let a child under age 8 blow up his own balloon—accidentally inhaling the balloon while trying to take a breath to blow it up is one of the leading causes of suffocation deaths in children.
Toys with small batteries
Coin-cell batteries (small round batteries that are shaped like a button and used in toys, handheld electronic devices, hearing aids, remote controls, and calculators) pose a distinct danger, since they may look like a piece of shiny candy to a curious child. Make sure you never keep these lying around, and be sure that the battery compartment of all electronic toys are securely screwed on, says Cohen.
Thankfully, the Beatlemania-like frenzy that swept through the country last year for these toys seems to have ebbed, but there are probably still hiding under your child’s bed or in the back of his closet. The spinners pose a few distinct safety hazards for kids under age 3: They’re made of small parts that can break apart to become choking hazards; the light-up versions often contain the those dangerous coin-cell batteries; and when kids put them in their mouths, they can break teeth and cause other oral damage.
It’s not just tiny toys that can be dangerous—that giant wooden box you use to straighten up all your child’s playthings can also cause injury or even death. If a toy box has a heavy lid and a small child is leaning into the box or using the edges to pull up to standing position, the lid can drop down, injuring their head or neck and causing grave injuries or even death. If you’re not sure if your toy chest is up to current safety standards, either remove the lid entirely, or switch to using open-topped bins and baskets and organize your toys.