Dos and Don'ts: Choosing Safe Toys for Babies and Toddlers

September is Baby Safety Month, and Ready. Set. Food! is committed to helping you keep your baby safe inside and outside of the home.

Play is vital for your little one’s growth, but not every toy is a winning choice. Some toys are unsafe for your baby or toddler. How to make sure the toys you choose are safe for your child? Move through our checklist of dos and don'ts.

Play is vital for your little one’s growth. Every age-appropriate toy plays a role in your baby’s or toddler’s learning and development – and your child has lots of fun while learning when they play with toys!

But not every toy is a winning choice. Some toys are dangerous for your child, because they pose choking risks and other risks.

How to make sure the toys you choose are safe for your baby or toddler? Today, we’ll go over our checklist of dos and don'ts.

Choosing Safe Toys: The Dos

Follow this list when picking out baby and toddler toys:

  • Pick sturdy toys.
  • Think big – or at least big enough to avoid choking.
  • Read and follow the labels.
  • Pick washable toys.
  • Make sure the toy is non-toxic.
  • Check that batteries are secure.
  • Choose toys that meet your child’s developmental needs.
  • Screen secondhand toys and hand-me-downs even more carefully.

Do pick sturdy toys.

The toys you choose for your child must be able to withstand hard drops, pulls, twists, and falls without breaking. They must also be able to stay together if your little one puts part of the toy in their mouth, or even tries to chew the toy.

All toy parts need to be well-secured, because babies and toddlers can sometimes be rough on toys as they play and explore. Make sure there aren’t loose or breakable parts that could pose a choking hazard if baby chews and dislodges them.

This means choosing thicker, not thinner, plastic toys, and choosing other toys made from materials that will last long and won’t wear easily. It also means choosing stuffed toys that don’t have buttons, eyes, ears, or noses that could come off.

Do think big – or at least big enough to avoid choking.

All toys and toy parts must be bigger than your little one’s mouth, so they don’t pose a choking risk. Use the “tube test” – buy a specialized choking test tube and make sure none of the toy parts can fit through, or do the same test with an empty toilet paper roll.

Remember, though, that the tube or toilet roll test isn’t foolproof. There could still be other choking hazards (more on avoiding choking hazards later).

Do read and follow the labels.

The toys your little one plays with should be age-appropriate, so make sure the age recommendation on the package matches the age of your child. Age recommendations on young children’s toys are meant for safety.

After you’ve seen that the age matches up, don’t stop there. Understand how the toy is meant to be used, and review it to make sure it’s truly appropriate for your child. Then, once you’ve selected a toy, model safe play for your little one before handing it off. This includes encouraging toddlers not to put the toys in their mouths.

Do pick washable toys.

This way, you can clean them regularly, and reduce your child’s chances of picking up germs that could make them sick. It’s best to wipe down wooden and plastic toys with soapy water, and wash favorite stuffed animals when they get dirty or when your child is sick.

Do make sure the toy is non-toxic.

The toys you choose should be free of toxic materials like BPA, phthalates, PVC, and lead.

Look for crayon and paint sets that are labeled non-toxic and that say “ASTM D-4236.” This means that they’re certified safe by the American Society for Testing and Materials.

It may be tough to determine whether other toys are free of toxic materials, but it’s good practice to pick non-plastic toys when you can (like sturdy wood toys and stuffed toys), and to choose teething toys that are labeled “BPA free” and “PVC free.”

Do check that batteries are secure.

If you give your little one any toy with batteries, make sure that the battery cover is secured tightly with a screw, and that baby can’t easily pry the cover off. Even better? Select toys that don’t require a battery at all. Batteries (and loose screws) are very dangerous if swallowed. They could pose a choking risk, and swallowed batteries can lead to chemical burns.

Do choose toys that meet your little one’s developmental needs.

As mentioned above, children learn new motor and educational skills as they play with the right toys. Of course, your child is likely to put objects in their mouth as they explore, so choosing mouth-safe toys is also key. These guidelines will help you strike the balance:

  • For babies, try rattles, teethers, and other safe toys that your little one can reach for and grasp; tummy time mats; toys with mirrors; and big ring stackers.
  • For 1 year olds, try larger balls to throw, kick, and catch, wooden blocks, sorting and stacking toys, simple pretend play toys, and “busy boxes” with knobs and buttons.
  • For 2 year olds, try larger balls to throw, kick, and catch, pretend play toys, paints, crayons, simple puzzles, wooden blocks, wooden or plastic animals, sorting and stacking toys, and play musical instruments.

Do inspect secondhand or used toys even closer.

Make sure that nothing on the toy is loose or broken, that the toy is still in sturdy condition, and that you’ll be able to wash the toy before giving it to your little one. Also, make sure that the toy was not recalled. Reject or throw away any toy that’s broken, worn, or otherwise unsafe.

Choosing Safe Toys: The Don’ts

When shopping, or screening toys for your little one, this list of don’ts will help you know what toys to avoid at all costs:

  • Don’t buy choking hazard toys.
  • Don’t pick toys that are too loud or shrill.
  • Don’t buy any toys with magnets.
  • Don’t choose any toys with sharp points or pinch points.
  • Don’t pick any toys with long strings or ribbons.
  • Don’t give balloons as toys.
  • Don’t let your little one play with anything electric.
  • Don’t buy toys that launch or shoot something out.
  • Don’t let your little one access “older kid” toys.
  • Don’t keep worn-out toys around.

Don’t buy choking hazard toys.

Avoid toys with small parts that your little one could choke on. Also, avoid toys where small pieces could break off and pose a choking hazard, and toys that come with small balls and marbles. Toys with pellets or beans that could come out, and toys where a small end can reach the back of the mouth, are also a no-go.

Babies and toddlers put everything in their mouths – that’s one way they explore the world. So, check the label. Don’t buy any toy that says “Choking hazard: small parts. Not for children under 3 years of age.”

Learn more about avoiding choking hazard toys from Hasbro Children's Hospital:

Don’t pick toys that are too loud or shrill.

Some battery-operated toys make overly loud or shrill noises that could damage your little one’s hearing (especially if your child holds them close to their ear). Avoid toys with music or sounds that are at an overly high volume. And be especially careful of toys with sirens.

Don’t buy any toys with magnets.

Small magnets are a choking hazard if swallowed. Even worse, if two magnets connect together after someone swallows them, they could block the intestines and cause other problems that require medical attention.

Don’t choose any toys with sharp points or pinch points.

This includes avoiding flimsier wooden toys that could break and create both sharp points and a splinter risk. This also means avoiding toys with hinged areas that could pinch little fingers. Stick to toys with smooth and rounded edges.

Don’t pick any toys with long strings or ribbons.

If a string, ribbon, or stuffed animal tail is longer than 6 inches, it poses a strangulation risk. Very short tails and ribbon “tags” are okay, but stay away from anything longer than that.

Don’t give balloons as toys.

Uninflated and popped latex balloons pose choking and suffocation risks. And inflated balloons can pop quickly.

Don’t let your little one play with anything electric.

Toys that plug into an outlet are unsafe for little ones, because of the shock risk. Stick to battery-powered toys with secure batteries, or toys that require no power at all.

Don’t buy toys that launch or shoot something out.

These projectile toys could hit and hurt your little one’s eyes. And they often involve smaller objects that put your child at risk for choking.

Don’t let your baby or toddler access “older kid” toys.

If you have at least one child over the age of 3, many of the toys that are safe for your older child(ren) could be unsafe in your baby or toddler’s hands. Don’t let your little one have access to your older kid’s toys, and make sure your older kid doesn’t offer unsafe toys to your little one.

Don’t keep worn-out toys around.

Previously safe toys can become unsafe if they break or wear out. Throw out any toy that wears out, develops a sharp point, gets broken, has peeling paint, or gets rusty. A leaky battery also means that you should throw out the toy, as battery fluid is unsafe for your child to ingest.

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