stockings containing presents and not toys to avoid

Safety • Dec 14, 2021

Stocking Stuffers and Toys to Avoid This Holiday Season

Just because a toy is on a shelf in a toy store or marketed online doesn’t mean it is free of toxins and safety hazards.  For over 30 years, the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) has found unsafe toys on the shelves, despite regulations intended to keep our toys healthy for children. Learn which toys to avoid. As you start your holiday shopping, check out these 10 points to ensure the toys you buy are safe. Consider sharing this article with grandma and others who might be shopping for your little ones. It beats having to take the toxic toys away later!  

Look for choking hazards

Hard candy is one of the most common choking hazards. Watch out for mints and other holiday hard candies that well-intentioned people may give your little ones. Pretend food and other things toddlers like to put in their mouth should be large enough so that they cannot fit through the cardboard tube used for a paper towel or toilet paper roll.

Check the battery compartment

Is the battery compartment cover broken, or is that tiny screw that tightens it down missing?  Fix it before your little one swallows a battery and spends the night in the pediatric ER (or requires surgery to have it removed).  Also, be aware of items with small coin-shaped button batteries. It’s very easy for kids to put button batteries in their mouths and accidentally swallow them, or put them in an ear or nose, or even under an eyelid.

When button batteries get wet from saliva after swallowing it, the electrical current in the battery breaks down the water to form a corrosive product. It can burn a hole through parts of the digestive system, such as the esophagus or wherever it has been inserted. Even if the battery is old or flat, it can still produce enough electricity to cause burns inside the body. Dr. Jesse Vrecenak, a Washington University pediatric surgeon at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, talks more about the dangers of button batteries in this vlog.

Toys to avoid? Skip the magnets

If a child ingests two magnets, and then they stick together with a piece of intestine between them, they can cut off circulation to that part of the intestine.  Getting the magnets out via endoscopy or surgery is no fun at all.

Avoid the shiny vinyl stuff

Phthalates are a class of toxins associated with vinyl products, especially shiny vinyl coverings on backpacks, 3-ring binders, lunch boxes, hair clips, etc.  DEHP is one type of phthalate that is commonly found in products used by children.  Phthalates have been banned in toys, but are still found in children’s items that are not technically toys, such as school supplies and even furniture.  They are also found in the vinyl coverings on some crib mattresses.  There is a theory that phthalates in crib mattresses may be associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  Phthalate exposure has been associated with many health problems, including early puberty, reproductive problems, hormonal disturbances, and even cancer.

Test your toys and your home for lead

Lead is associated with poor cognitive development, among other health problems, yet it is still used in paint and pigments, especially in products made overseas. Although lead is banned in toys in the United States, every year we recall toys that are found to contain lead anyway. Lead is still permitted in products that are not technically toys but commonly used by children, including dishes and drinking glasses.  Lead test kits are easy ways for you to discover what items at home could be exposing your family to the neurotoxin. You can order lead test kits online to test for lead in your home by yourself.

Avoid chromium VI

Chromium VI or hexavalent chromium is used in electroplating, stainless steel production, leather tanning, paint, and textile manufacturing. Ingesting or inhaling chromium VI is associated with cancer. Skin contact can cause allergic reactions.  We see this when electroplating is used to coat buttons and zippers in kid’s clothing.  Chromium VI testing is complex, so we must depend on consumer safety groups like U.S. PIRG to call out manufacturers who violate these standards.

Stick with age-appropriate toys

It’s so tempting to buy your toddler your favorite childhood toys before they are really ready. We know it’s exciting but these are toys to avoid. Wait a few years before you get them that American Girl Doll with small parts or the Legos they can choke on. Don’t worry, you’ll be walking on Legos before too long.

No latex balloons

Uninflated latex balloons, especially the tiny ones meant to be filled with water, can easily be inhaled when someone takes a deep breath. Running while blowing them up raises the risk.  Once the balloon is deep in the airway, it is difficult to remove. Teach kids (and your neighbors) that water balloons are just for water. When possible, buy foil (Mylar) balloons which are not a choking hazard.

Stocking stuffers from the dollar store?  Be careful

Toys from discounted retailers break quickly and have small parts, including those tiny button batteries. These might be good toys to avoid.

Turn down the volume

Exposure to loud noises in childhood can lead to lifetime hearing impairment. If you find a toy loud or annoying, it’s much too loud for your child.  Turn down the volume (or just take out the batteries).

Stressed out with holiday shopping already?  Here are 5 steps to a successful, stress-free, and happy holiday.