Twinkling lights, shimmering ornaments, festively wrapped packages under the fragrant boughs of the Christmas tree it's an image that is sure to bring joy to children and adults alike. During the hustle and bustle of preparing for the holidays, though, don't forget to put safety first, particularly when buying toys for children and when putting up your Christmas tree.

Toy Safety

Although fewer and fewer hazardous toys are on the market each year, adults should still choose toys wisely. Too often, adults select toys that appeal to them rather than choosing an appropriate toy for the child.

Each year, nationally, hundreds of thousands of children are injured by toys that may have seemed safe. The most important rules for safe toy giving are to pay attention to age guidelines and to select toys suited for the child.

To select appropriate and safe toys --

  • Check the label for the age recommendations. Toys recommended for children older than 3 years of age may contain small parts that could present a choking hazard to a younger child.
  • Choose toys the child can handle. Just because a toy is recommended for 8-year-olds does not mean every 8-year-old is mature enough to operate it.
  • Think about how much adult supervision the toy will require and whether that supervision will be available.

Think BIG when selecting toys especially for children younger than 3 years old. In general, the ideal toy for a very young child is one that --

  • has smooth, rounded edges,
  • is too large to swallow,
  • has no exposed pins, wires or nails,
  • does not contain pieces, such as darts or arrows, that can be thrown or shot at another person,
  • does not contain pieces, such as darts or arrows, that can be thrown or shot at another person,
  • is not electric, and
  • is not made of material, such as glass or brittle plastic, that will crack or shatter easily.

Around the house, keep toys used by older children, such as games with small pieces, marbles and small balls, away from young children. Keep uninflated balloons out of the hands of children younger than 6 years of age and discard pieces of broken balloons to avoid a choking accident.

Although the following items are not classified as toys, keep safety in mind when purchasing them:

  • Gates and enclosures should have openings no more than 1-1/2 inches wide to prevent the child's head from getting trapped. When installing a gate in a doorway or stairway, make sure it is securely anchored.
  • High chairs should have a wide base for stability and restraints that are strong and easy to operate. Always use the restraints.
  • Playpens should have a mesh netting with weave smaller than the buttons on a baby's clothing. Space between slats on a wooden playpen should be no more than 2-3/8 inches wide.
  • Rattles, squeeze toys and teethers should not have small ends that can reach the back of baby's mouth. Remove these items from the playpen or crib when baby is sleeping and never tie them around baby's neck.
  • Toy chests should have hinges that will hold the lid open in any position. Other types of lids may fall on the child's head, causing serious harm or death. Toy chests also should have ventilation holes that will not be blocked if the chest is placed against the wall.
  • Walkers should not be used near stairs where the child can fall down. Walkers also can tip over when the child attempts to move from a hard floor to a carpeted area. Children have lost fingers in older walkers with x-frames that are like scissors when closed. Never leave a child unattended in a walker.

Christmas Tree Safety

Each year Christmas trees and decorations cause fires that resulte in injuries to individuals and in hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage. Remember these safety tips when selecting a Christmas tree or other live holiday decoration:

  • The safest tree is a fresh one. And the freshest tree in one you buy from a tree farm where you choose and cut down your own tree.
  • Know the tree seller. A dealer's reputation and the length of time in business can help to assure the quality of the tree you purchase.
  • Ask questions about the tree's freshness, such as when it was cut, where it came from and how it was transported and stored. Trees exposed to wind and sun for two to three weeks and then transported uncovered from the northern states tend to be dangerously dry.
  • Bending needles is not always an accurate test for dryness because needles may retain their moisture even though the tree's moisture content is low.
  • Know the space available for the tree's display, vertically and horizontally. Make sure the stump of the tree is long enough to provide sufficient support and to soak up enough water. The stump should be 1 inch long for each foot of height to provide enough water for the tree.
  • Saw 1/2 inch off the bottom of the trunk to expose new wood that will absorb water easily. Until you are ready to put up the tree, set the tree in water and out of the wind. Check the water level daily.
  • When you put up your tree, be sure to use a sturdy stand that holds water.
  • Check the water level in the stand several times each week and add water as necessary. Adding sugar, bicarbonate of soda, honey, vinegar or other ingredients to the water does not help the tree.
  • Do not display the tree near heat outlets, or close off heat vents that would blow directly on the tree.
  • Turn off the tree lights before you leave home or go to bed.
  • If you have an artificial tree, make certain it is flame retardant.

Last Updated 12/22/00

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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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