While toys sold by well-known, reputable stores are generally safe, toys, novelty items and dressing-up clothes that you can buy in online marketplaces, markets or discount stores may not be.

Take care and don’t assume that, just because you can buy something, it must be safe.

Take care where you buy from

Remember that online marketplaces are just that – lots of different traders under one roof. You may be buying from a seller in the Far East, where safety standards for toys are very different to ours.

Real-life market traders and discount stores may also be importing from countries with very different safety standards too. Trading standards have seized toys that quickly fall apart, revealing sharp metal spikes and nails, or with cords and balls that could easily choke a young child.

Of course there are laws designed to make sure toys are safe. But trading standards can’t be everywhere, checking every car boot sale and pop-up shop. So you need to take care where you buy from.

If your budget can stretch to it, head to reputable retailers on the high street or online, or to the websites of well-known brand names. And if you’re counting the pennies this Christmas, look out for things like CE marks and Lion Marks on toys.

Marks to guide you

A CE mark is required by law on any toy sold in the EU. It is the manufacturer’s claim that the toy complies with European safety legislation.
A Lion Mark is a good indicator of a toy’s safety. It shows that the product has been made by a member of the British Toy and Hobby Association, to a high standard of safety and quality.

But remember that CE marks and Lion Marks can be faked, so use your judgement. If a bargain seems too good to be true – say it costs less than half the normal price – then it probably is!

Exploring the world one mouthful at a time

Babies and toddlers put nearly everything in their mouths, which is why some toys are marked with age restrictions, in case little ones choke on small parts or loose hair.

Look out for this symbol as a helpful guide. It shows toys that aren’t meant for children under 36 months.

And think about special needs too. For example, children with learning disabilities may develop in different ways to other children the same age. Use your judgement and, if you’re not sure, ask their parents for advice.

Which toys are suitable for my child?

All toys should have a label telling you the age they are designed for. The hints below are just a guide to help you choose a toy your child can enjoy safely.

All children develop at different speeds. But even so, it’s best to stick to the age advice on toy packaging. If a baby plays with a toy that has small parts or long fur, they might choke or swallow bits of the toy. Marbles can also be choked on and magnets are particularly dangerous as they can cause serious problems if swallowed. Toy manufacturers know what is safe and what isn’t so it’s best to follow their age guides.

Sharing toys teaches children good habits, but be careful if older children are sharing their toys. What’s safe for a 7 year old might not be safe for a toddler.

Second hand toys can certainly save money but you do need to take extra care. Look for toys that are in good condition and come with their original instructions. Using a toy library can be a safer option – go online and find out if there is one in your area.

More risky toys can still be fun, if you’re there to play with your child. Toys like baking kits, baby bath toys or chemistry sets will help your children learn, but you’ll need to be there to make sure your child doesn’t get hurt.

How can I keep my child’s toys safe?

Keeping things tidy can be a real hassle, especially with very young children. But encouraging your child to put toys away helps to keep your home safe. As one of the main risks to children is tripping or falling over toys, putting them away in a toy box can save tears. Tidying up things like balloons is especially important – burst balloons are a choking hazard for young children.

Throwing things away can seem wasteful, but if a toy is broken or damaged, it’s better to throw it away than give it to a charity shop or jumble sale. The broken toy could go on to cause accidents for other children. If you do pass toys on when your child has finished with them, remember to include the instructions if you have them.

Battery-powered toys have usually passed rigorous safety tests. But as the batteries wear out, try to avoid mixing old and new batteries – the older batteries could overheat in the toy.

Batteries in children’s toys are covered by safety regulations. They should either be enclosed by a screw and a secure compartment or need two independent or simultaneous movements to open the battery compartment. But remember that older children may still be able to open secure battery compartments.

Toys bought online or from markets, discount stores or temporary shops may not follow the appropriate safety regulations. For example, trading standards officers have issued warnings about light-up fidget spinners where the battery is easily accessible to children.

Read more about the dangers posed by button batteries

Top tips for individual toys

Cot toys, cot bumpers and cot nests are all very cute. But they’re best out of your baby’s cot. The Lullaby Trust’s advice is that ‘the safest cot is a clear cot’. This reduces the risk of head-covering and other accidents.

Noisy toys such as cap guns can damage hearing. Never allow children to hold them near their own or anyone else’s ears.

Slimes and putties can cause irritation, diarrhoea, vomiting and cramps due to an excess use of boron in the ingredients. A Which? report in 2018 showed that more than 40% of the slimes and putties on sale at Christmas time failed the safety standard for toys.

Kites should not be used near overhead power lines. If a kite gets caught, the electricity can travel down the cord and cause serious injury.

Laser pointers can be powerful enough to damage central vision if shone into a child’s eye. There’s no way of knowing how strong a laser pointer is, so keep them away from children.

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Garden toys such as swings or climbing frames should not easily tip over. Use them over soft grass or soil (you should be able to push a screwdriver in). Make sure there are no hard edges, spikes or glass where children might fall. Regularly check fastenings, ropes. etc. for looseness and wear.

Trampolines should be placed on soft, energy-absorbing ground and should not be shared by adults and children or by children of different weights. Try to buy one that comes with a safety enclosure to reduce the risk of falls and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Paddling pools must be emptied after use and put away, or turned upside down so they do not collect rain water. Babies can drown in as little as 5cm (2″) of water – this depth can easily collect in an empty paddling pool left out in the rain.

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