Choosing the right toy for the right age

I was lost in unfamiliar territory. It has been many years since I purchased toys for toddlers. Now that I’m a great-aunt, my holiday shopping list has changed.

That’s how I found myself surrounded by shelves packed with toys. It was confusing. I didn’t want to buy the wrong toy — or worse, an unsafe toy — for my young great-nephew.

For help, I turned to Erika Janes, R.N., coordinator of Safe Kids Louisville, a program led by the Children’s Hospital Foundation Office of Child Advocacy of Norton Children’s Hospital.

Here are her tips for buying toys:

  • Watch out for small parts. If the toy or a removable part of it fits through the hole in a toilet paper roll, Janes doesn’t recommend it for children younger than age 5. Small children put a lot of things in their mouths, and puzzle parts, doll shoes, blocks and other small pieces can turn a toy into a choking hazard.
  • For homes with young children, avoid electronic toys (and holiday decorations) that use “button” batteries. The small disk-shaped batteries are dangerous if swallowed because they can erode the lining of the intestine, often without any initial symptoms. If you think your child has swallowed one of these batteries, make an immediate trip to the emergency room for evaluation.
  • Make sure stuffed animals purchased for younger children don’t have plastic eyes and noses that can be chewed off and swallowed.
  • Read and follow age ranges on toy labels. Toys that are too advanced may pose safety hazards for children who are younger than the ages noted on the box. They may also be boring or frustrating for a child who hasn’t yet developed the needed skills.
  • Don’t buy toys, such as bikes, for kids to grow into. They can be unsafe for the child’s current age.
  • If you are buying a toy with wheels, make sure a helmet is part of the gift. Make sure the helmet fits correctly and that the child knows how to use it.
  • The toys of yesterday are still fun today. Active toys or arts and crafts supplies get kids moving and help develop creative thinking skills.

Janes also cautions parents to keep an older child’s toys away from younger children. Your 6-year-old’s toy with small pieces should be kept out of the hands of your 3-year-old.

For an expanded list of Janes’ suggestions and safe toy choices, visit her list of age-appropriate toys on Norton Children’s Hospital’s website.


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