Safety, Not Suggestions: The Truth Behind Toy Age Recommendations

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

By Kristin Morency Goldman

When shopping for children, it can be tempting to buy the latest hot gadget or toy. But depending on the age of the child, that may not always be the safest choice.

According to a new survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of The Toy Association, 82% of parents think the age label on toy packaging is “just a suggestion.” But a toy’s age-grading isn’t related to a child’s intelligence or merely a suggestion — it’s based on the developmental abilities of children at a given age and the specific features of a toy.

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the frenzy of buying gifts and overlook safety. To ensure safe play for children, it’s important to consider and follow a few smart shopping tips:

1. Pay attention to age-grading. Pay special attention to toys labeled 3+, as these toys may contain small parts that can present a choking hazard for children under 3 (or those who still mouth toys).Toys with small parts have a warning label on the packaging, so keep a careful eye out as you shop. For an extra safety step, consider purchasing a Small Parts Tester (available in the baby-proofing section of most toy stores and on Amazon) to test other small objects found around the home.

2. Shop at a retailer you know and trust.Store staff at established businesses will be knowledgeable about age-appropriate toys. Online sellers will include safety information and the toy’s age grading in product descriptions. Those selling via garage sales, secondhand stores, or temporary retailers may not know about the latest safety information and certified products — and may not be around should an issue arise later.

3. Keep older kids’ toys, which may contain small pieces, out of reach from younger siblings and their friends. Keep a separate toy chest for older children whose toys may contain small parts. Enlist their help in keeping their toys away from younger siblings; they’ll love having the responsibility of keeping little ones safe. And, of course, always supervise children while they play.

4. Dispose of all packaging and gift wrap as soon as possible.Dispose of all unnecessary toy packaging and gift-wrap immediately. Piles of discarded gift-wrap can conceal sharp objects, and the edges of hard plastic packaging can cut small fingers.

5. Demonstrate safe play. For each new toy, read the instructions with the child and demonstrate how to safely play with it. It’s a great way to ensure children know how to use a toy or game appropriately, and best of all, it’s fun.

6. Battery safety. For toys that use batteries, ensure the batteries are securely enclosed in their compartments and are inaccessible to kids. Always keep old or extra batteries away from children.

These tips are helpful to share with grandparents and other family members or gift-givers to help ensure safe play all year long. For more toy safety tips and information, visit, The Toy Association’s free, comprehensive resource for parents and caregivers.

Kristin Morency Goldman is senior communications specialist at The Toy Association. She stays abreast of the latest economic data, safety standards, product trends, and news related to toys, play, and the youth entertainment marketplace. Her articles can be found at and in trade publications worldwide. Founded in 1916, The Toy Association, Inc. is the not-for-profit trade association representing all businesses involved in creating and delivering toys and youth entertainment products for children of all ages.