Toys with small pieces are rated (at the minimum) for children ages 3 and up because they can block a child's airway if swallowed. In fact, any toy that is small enough to pass through a toilet-paper tube is too small for a young child. But how young is too young? Only a parent can determine that.
Earlier this year two children died from choking on toy darts. They didn't shoot the darts into their mouths. Instead, they were sucking on them and the suction cups on the ends of the darts caused them to get stuck, blocking their airways.
Sounds like a case of little brother playing with big brother's toy, doesn't it? Sadly, the children who died from mouthing toys were 9 and 10-year-old boys.
Toy Jewelry also poses a serious health hazard for children who put it in their mouths. They suck on a necklace while they play without even thinking of it, yet more than 30 styles of toy jewelry have been recalled in the first half of this year because they are contaminated with poisonous elements like lead and cadmium. Those metals, if ingested, can cause serious health problems for children.
I've seen my 5-year-old mouthing toys, and if 9 and 10-year-olds are dying from it, what can parents do to keep their kids safe?
Joy Berry is a child-development expert who has written more than 250 books on the subject.
"Safety during play begins with the things in a child’s environment—including the toy box. Choose toys that comply with standard safety guidelines," Berry said.
First, know your child. If the Littlest Pet Shop accessories and Barbie shoes go in your 6-year-old's mouth (or nose, for that matter) she's not ready for those tiny pieces.
Second, hold your ground. If you see your child mouthing a toy, take it away. Put it up high where they can see it. (I know...I'm the meanest mama in the world!) Don't give it back until they've gone a full week without mouthing a toy!
Third, be consistent. If you're at the grocery store and the Silly Bandz go in your child's mouth, confiscate them. Teach this rule to every other person who cares for your child: their teachers, babysitters, grandparents and friends.
Last, don't allow any toy into your house until you know your child is ready for it. I've been shocked to see my 3-year-old bringing home tiny gumball-machine prizes from the preschool's Halloween party. I've taken them away, much to my son's dismay, but he's just not ready.
Someone has to take responsibility for children's safety and it's up to parents to be firm. Children's lives may depend on it.