2002-12-18 / Editorials

Buy Best, Safest Toys This Year

By Gifford Miller

As almost-new parents (we have an infant and a toddler), my wife and I know first-hand the special joy that children bring to the holiday season. We look forward to giving our children wonderful memories that they will carry with them throughout their years.

We also know how important is to provide for their physical, as well as their emotional, safety. While this is true, of course, at all times, it is a special concern during holiday seasons, when home becomes more hectic and lively.

With the holiday season fast approaching, loving grandparents, parents, relatives and friends may be searching for the perfect gift for a beloved child. While desirability is usually the first thing on a shopper’s mind—is it this year’s "hot toy?"— it’s equally important to consider product safety.

That’s why I wanted to share a special set of ABCs that I’ve learned as a new parent: how to buy the best toys for your child.


Read and heed warning labels—All toys for children under three should be labeled to indicate recommended age. Toys that would be dangerous for young children are legally required to have warning labels.

Materials—Look for toys that have clothing labeled "flame retardant" or "flame resistant" on fabrics.

Avoid choking and strangulation hazards—Children explore the world by putting things in their mouths, so any toys manufactured for youngsters between three and six years old are required to indicate choking hazards on labels. Don’t buy toys with small parts, and protect children under three by testing the toys you’re buying. Keep mobile’s out of reach of children in cribs and keep cords short and out of reach.

Buy safety accessories—This category includes protective gear for bicycle riding or skateboarding.

Avoid excessive noise—Children’s ears are more sensitive, and hearing damage can result from repeated exposure over 85 decibels (about the same noise level as a noisy restaurant or heavy traffic). Test before buying, if a toy seems loud to an adult, it’s probably too loud for a child.


Check out toys on the internet—Online shopping poses special problems. This year’s survey of ToySafety.net (an arm of the National Association of Public Interest Research Groups) found that virtually no online retailers posted statutory choke warnings and less than half of the Web sites listed age-appropriate usage. You should also realize that some toys sold online may come from companies that don’t comply with United States toy regulations; and toys sold on auction sites like eBay may have been recalled.

Tip. Check the Consumer Products Safety Commission Web site (www.cpsc.gov) to find out whether a toy or children’s product has been recalled.

Look for paint—All painted toys and those including art materials should use non-toxic paints. Don’t buy a product that doesn’t include this information on the label.

Check for sharp edges—Toys with sharp edges or paints aren’t advisable for children under eight. Be careful of stuffed toys with wires inside that could poke through and cut a child.

Test for quality—Look for sturdy construction (tightly sewn seams, for example) and strong materials


Bringing safe toys into the home resolves part of the problem. But a child’s environment also needs to have the maximum degree of safety.

One of the best ways to start that process comes from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, which advises parents to literally get down on their hands and knees and explore their homes from a child’s perspective. This helps spot potentially dangerous objects (medicines, cleaning products, the toys of older siblings, uncovered electrical outlets.)


When you’ve done everything possible to maximize safety, it’s time to enjoy your family. After all, the best gift you can give your children is a safe and happy home.

Seasons greetings from the Millers to you and yours!

A. Gifford Miller, a Democrat who represents Manhattan’s 5th City Council District, is Speaker of the City Council.

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