A parent’s guide to a safe and happy holiday season

For parents, it truly is better to give than to receive at Christmas. Putting a smile on your child’s face is possibly the most rewarding gift you can get. But that may be easier said than done.

There are a lot of toys out there and a lot of commercials trying to tell you what your child wants and needs. You just want some stuff that will give your children joy and will be safe.

According to N. Mariam Shair, MD, a pediatrician at OSF HealthCare Medical Group – Belvidere Primary Care in Belvidere, Illinois, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a helpful website with guidelines and tips for picking the best toys for Christmas.

Picking effective toys

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you buy toys that are appropriate for your child’s age and stage of development.

For babies and toddlers, you want to consider toys that will help your child build developmental skills, like their fine motor, cognitive and perceptional skills.

“That makes it more likely that kids will be engaged with the toy and reduces the risk of causing injury,” Dr. Shair said. “What are they going to do with it? Will it teach them something? How is it going to help this child progress developmentally?”

Toys that can help young children develop their problem solving skills will also provide enjoyment while progressing and developing as you want them to, she added.

Technology is also a big consideration for children. High-tech gadgets with internet access are growing ever more popular, and while there can be dangers and downsides, Dr. Shair said it doesn’t necessarily mean that internet-enabled devices are a bad choice for children. You just have to think about the purpose of the device, set rules of use beforehand and enforce those rules.

“Tell your child how much time they can spend on the device and that you’ll monitor what sites they visit,” she said. “You’re the parent so you’re the boss.”

Safety first

Safety-conscious parents with young girl.

Always check for warning labels or instructions on toy packaging. Often you’ll find guidelines about the ages for which the toy is suitable.

“Be aware that while it looks cool, that toy may not be appropriate for your child,” Dr. Shair said. “Obviously, avoid toys with toxic materials or that can cause poisoning – little ones likes to put things in their mouth all the time.”

Also beware of toys with small pieces. The government regulates that toys for children under the age of 3 cannot have parts smaller than 1.25 inches in diameter and 2.25 inches long. “Think large,” according to Dr. Shair, to avoid choking hazards for small children.

Avoid toys that shoot objects into the air because they can cause eye injuries and serve as a choking hazard. Also, take out tags, strings and ribbons.

“Little ones like to wrap them around their neck and are a strangulation hazard,” she said.

Children under 10 should not have any toys that need to plug into an electrical outlet to avoid burns or shocks. You should buy them battery operated toys, instead. However, avoid toys with button batteries or magnets, which can be a choking hazard and can cause stomach and intestinal problems if swallowed.

Be really careful with chemical sets and hobby kits, Dr. Shair added. Many are not meant for younger kids and may have dangerous chemicals in them. So read the labels and make sure they are age appropriate before buying.

Keep them safe after the holidays

Toy safety also extends to how you store toys. Keep away from toy boxes with a lid that can close and trap kids. Dr. Shair suggests getting one with either no lid or a light lid, and with ventilation holes so a trapped child avoids suffocation.

Speak to your child’s pediatrician or find one near you if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s safety.