Check Your List Twice: How to Buy Safe Holiday Gifts


We’ve all been there. It’s hard to say no to a child who wants the newest, coolest toy on the market. But what if it seems unsafe? Should you give in, or is there valid reason for concern?

While previously unexpected dangers put kids in harm’s way this year, like furniture tip-overs, toys are always something to be extra careful about. Defective toys pose a huge threat to children, especially those five or younger. In fact, a child is sent to the ER every three minutes for a toy-related injury, according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

And it’s not just kids’ toys that can lead to a trip to the hospital. The gadgets and toys we get for our adult loved ones could also be dangerous (just ask anyone who gave or received the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 as a gift).

Last year, hoverboards were the holiday culprits. What should you steer clear of this year? And how can you make sure you’re getting a safe gift every time you shop?

Look It Up

The first thing to check for when you grab something off store shelves is whether it’s been recalled. Unfortunately, this burden falls on consumers buying products or toys. When cars are recalled, companies can alert owners based on VIN numbers. Cell phone providers have the ability to contact affected consumers, directly, too. This year, Samsung decided to disable Note 7 phones in the U.S. via a software update after a recall was issued following incidents of exploding batteries.

Yet no such process exists for other products. In November, the Seattle-based WashPIRG Public Interest Research Group Foundation released its 31st annual ‘Trouble in Toyland’ report, listing the toys the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled for possible danger between January 2015 and October 2016. They found that many of the toys in the report were still being sold online.

The bottom line is you can’t trust companies to contact sellers when a product has been recalled. So it’s up to you to make sure that every toy you buy, and already own, does not pose a threat.

You can easily check online if the toy or gadget you have your eye one has been recalled. The CPSC has a searchable list of all recalled products in the country. The non-profit Safe Kids also keeps a comprehensive list of all products targeted at children.

Doing a quick Google search for the product’s name in the news is just as important as checking it hasn’t been recalled. Sometimes investigations into reported accidents take a long time and recalls stall, but that does not mean the item in question is a safe buy.

Check the Label

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is in charge of monitoring and regulating all products apart from cars, food, and drugs. Thankfully, the agency has put in place some of the toughest regulations in the world when it comes to toys, including third party testing and certification for toys meant for children 12 and under.

However, you still need to check the label of everything you buy. If the toy is made of fabric it must be flame resistant or flame retardant. Painted toys need to specify they were painted with lead-free paint.

Art materials should be labeled as nontoxic and look for a label that reads “ASTM D-4236” on crayons and paints to ensure they’ve been evaluated by the American Society for Testing and Materials. Does the product contain any chemicals that may be harmful? If it’s a stuffed toy or doll, is it washable and therefore hygienic? Does it contain lithium batteries which can be dangerous to charge?

Once you’ve read the label, you can make an informed decision on whether or not to buy the product, and what warnings you should heed if you do purchase it. It’s also important to follow directions. Things are made to be operated a certain way, and every time we deviate from proper usage, a product becomes unsafe.

Use Common Sense

If you’re buying gifts for a child, you also need to confirm the toy or product is not just safe in general, but safe specifically for the child.

Age appropriate. Make sure the toy is meant to be played with by kids in the child’s age range. Keep older siblings’ toys away from the little ones.

Design is key. Buy toys that are high-quality and were properly constructed.

Keep it down. Skip loud toys, as they can harm young kids’ hearing.

Gear up. Buy all the protective gear meant to go with the gift you’re buying. If you’re buying anything on wheels, make sure to grab the helmet, elbow pads, and knee pads to go with it so kids never ride without them.

Keep an eye out. Supervise kids under eight when they play, and also when they unwrap the toys to make sure any wrapping materials do not pose a choking hazard.

Batteries up high. Keep batteries away from kids.

Remember maintenance. Toys and electronics deteriorate, and lose efficacy and security based on wear. Inspect toys periodically to make sure there are no exposed wires or stuffing.

Know What to Avoid

Every year, World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.), releases a list of the most dangerous toys of the year. Before you head out to do your holiday shopping, check this year’s list.

There are some toys, however, that you should never get for kids. For children younger than three, you need to stay away from all toys with small parts or lithium batteries (also called button batteries) as they are choking hazards.

Balloons and magnets pose a grave threat if ingested. Since toddlers tend to put everything in their mouths, you also need to be wary of plastics. Check to see if the package is clearly marked “no phthalates” to ensure there are no chemicals. Stay away from toys with strings or straps longer than 7 inches as they pose a strangulation risk.

You also need to be careful when buying toys for older kids. Any toys with heating elements or sharp points and edges are not appropriate for kids under eight.

Supervision is key, as well, especially when your child is playing on riding toys.

Hold Manufacturers Accountable

Although prevention is most important when it comes to product safety, we also have to hold companies accountable when someone does get hurt in order to get justice and help make sure it will not happen again.

Often, recalls are not properly advertised and dangerous products get into consumers’ hands. If this has happened to you, read how our product liability lawyers can help. If you are ready to pursue a claim, fill out our free, no-risk case evaluation form today.