There's nothing quite like seeing a child's face light up at the sight of an exciting new toy. Before you hit the mall with "Dear Santa" letters smuggled in your back pocket, consider our tips for choosing safe, age-appropriate gifts so the little ones in your life can enjoy a happy, healthy holiday season.
Not just fun and games
Any toy sold, advertised, or imported into Canada must meet rigorous safety requirements, and toy stores are regularly checked for unsafe toys by Health Canada's Product Safety Officers. But parents and caregivers should still be vigilant. Sometimes unsafe toys do appear. Toys may become unsafe over time due to wear and tear, and some toys we thought were safe in the past may not meet current standards. The way toys are used may also pose a danger to kids.
Toy safety checklist
- Choose toys based on a child's age, ability, and interests.
- Look for sturdy, well-made, non-toxic toys without sharp edges or points.
- Toys designed for older children may not be safe for younger ones. Look for an age label on the toy package (for example, "Recommended for ages 6+"), and follow all safety warnings.
- Labelling isn't a substitute for adult supervision and proper use and care of a toy. Watch your kids play with new toys to ensure they use them properly, and teach older kids not to share their toys with younger siblings.
- Be especially careful when buying for kids younger than 3 years of age. Don't give them small toys, small balls or marbles, or small, loose toy parts, such as removable wheels on toy cars and trucks. Infant toys, such as teethers and rattles, should be large enough so they won't lodge in the throat.
- When buying plush and stuffed toys, make sure the eyes, nose and other decorations can't be pulled off and swallowed or choked on.
- Watch out for choking hazards, such as small magnets, long, stretchy cords and uninflated or broken latex balloons.
- Take a pass on any toys that are very loud, not only because they'll drive parents crazy, but because the noise level can damage a child's sensitive hearing.
- Electrically operated toys must bear the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) label, which shows that they've been tested for shock and fire hazards.
- When buying jewellery, look for good-quality pieces made of hypoallergenic materials, and inquire if the products are free of harmful lead. If you're not sure, don't buy it!
- Apply the same scrutiny to home-made and hand-made toys as you would store-bought ones.
- Throw out toy packaging, especially plastic bags, immediately. When assembling toys, follow instructions carefully. Only adults should change batteries.
- Check your child's toys regularly, and repair or discard worn or damaged items.
- For ride-on toys and bicycles, make sure the product is appropriate for the child's age, size, and ability level. Teach kids to use them safely (riding away from traffic, etc.). When riding a bike, in-line skating, or skateboarding, children should wear a properly fitted helmet. For in-line skating or skateboarding, consider additional safety gear such as elbow and kneepads, gloves, and wrist guards, which can help minimize injuries when kids fall.
- Many video games contain violence, explicit graphics, and offensive language. When buying a game, check the rating on the package to make sure it's appropriate for your child. (To learn about the independent rating system, visit the Entertainment Software Rating Board's website at
www.esrb.org.) Sit down and play with your kids so you know what they're being exposed to.
- Remind kids to be careful and take breaks when using interactive video game systems, such as the motion-sensitive Nintendo Wii. Make sure there is lots of room to move so that players don't hit or collide with objects, furniture, pets, or each other!
Do your part to keep kids safe. If you come across a toy that may be dangerous, call Health Canada's Product Safety Office at 1-866-662-0666. For information on toy recalls, visit