Each year, hundreds of children nationally arrive at hospitals during the holidays, and most are there for the same reason: toy-related injuries.
The trend is similar at Shands Jacksonville's Emergency Department, said Phyllis Hendry, M.D., FAAP, FACEP, a University of Florida College of Medicine-Jacksonville associate professor of pediatric emergency medicine.
Hendry said children's injuries typically spike more during the holidays in general. Some of those injuries are related to toys, including children choking on small parts or wrappers, getting pierced by sharp objects and swallowing harmful objects such as button batteries and magnets.
"Take the time to remind family and visitors of the potential hazards to your infant or toddler," she said. "People not used to thinking about children's safety may overlook everyday things that can be dangerous to them. You also may have children of all ages in your house for the holidays, and what's safe for one child isn't for another."
From infancy up to early teenage years, age appropriateness and safety equipment are key factors in avoiding such incidents.
Agencies such as Safe Kids Worldwide, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group track toys to report trends, recalls and other news. They also provide some of the following general guidelines to help ensure the safety of children:
- Look for labels that give age recommendations. These recommendations are not simply based on difficulty but the safety level of a toy when compared with various stages of development.
- For infants, toddlers or any children who still mouth objects, avoid toys with small parts that can pose a choking hazard. Use a small-parts tester (they can be purchased at a toy or baby specialty store) to measure the size of the toy or part. If the piece fits entirely inside the tube, then it is considered a choking hazard.
- For children younger than eight, avoid electric toys with heating elements and toys that have sharp edges and points.
- Check instructions for clarity. They should be clear to you and, when appropriate, to the child.
- Discard plastic wrappings on toys immediately, which can cause suffocation for infants and toddlers.
- Avoid toys with strings, straps or cords longer than 7 inches for infants and toddlers. They could get wrapped around the neck and cause strangulation.
- Include a helmet with any purchase of a bicycle, in-line skates, scooter, skateboard or sled. Make sure the helmet meets or exceeds safety standards developed by such organizations as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the American National Standards Institute, the Snell Memorial Foundation or the American Society for Testing and Materials.
- Include elbow pads and kneepads with the helmet. Be sure to include wrist guards for in-line skates, roller skates and skateboards, too.
- Buy reflective clothing or stickers for an older child who will be riding or skating at dawn or dusk. Reflectors on the bike pedals and wheels also increase a child's visibility.
- Give a horn or a bell as a stocking stuffer. It's essential for a bicyclist to warn motorists and pedestrians of his or her presence.