It’s hard to resist buying toys that will put a smile on the face of a child who is ill, but in this world of toy recalls, it’s important to be an informed parent. Toys that can cause physical injury and choking hazards are widely reported or recalled, but there are also chemical contaminants found in children’s toys to be concerned about.
Many plastic toys are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a material universally recognized for its toxicity. PVC is the plastic bearing the #3 recycling code; new PVC toys can also be identified by a very strong odor. Chemical components of PVC may include lead and phthalates which may contribute to serious health problems, so it is especially important to avoid PVC in teethers and plastic toys that will be mouthed by young children. Look for plastic toys whose manufacturers advertise that their products are “lead-free,” “phthalate-free” or “PVC-free.”
Even though U.S. law sets a stringent standard for lead content in children’s toys, some foreign manufacturers of inexpensive metal toy jewelry or trinkets still use lead, or have replaced it with cadmium, an even more dangerous heavy metal which is not currently prohibited by U.S. law. Young children are most at risk because they may chew or suck on these items.
Choose stuffed toys that are machine-washable and made from safe fabric and filling materials. Unwashable toys are often treated with chemicals to make their fabrics stain and water-resistant. These chemicals may exacerbate symptoms in allergic or asthmatic children and may be implicated in more serious health problems. Younger children, who often put their hands or toys in their mouths, are especially vulnerable. New toys should be washed before your child plays with them, and then washed regularly. Placing them in the dryer on high heat will also kill dust mites.
Art activities can engage children of all ages, providing an outlet for creativity, expression and distraction. Even if your child has not previously shown a keen interest in art, a gift of a new set of colored pencils, beeswax crayons or non-toxic paints and a blank pad may inspire them to try a new activity. Studies show that engaging in all types of art reduces stress and promotes positive feelings.
Encourage your child to draw a picture from his or her imagination or perhaps suggest painting or drawing from nature. Leaves, flowers, pinecones and seedpods can easily be brought inside and arranged to inspire a still life masterpiece!
A word of caution! Art materials may contain toxic chemicals, so care must be taken when selecting them for your child. There is no current standard for non-toxic art materials that you can rely on, but you should avoid products with the signal words “Danger,” “Warning,” “Hazardous,” “Caution,” or “Keep Out of Reach of Children.” Steer clear of permanent, scented or white board markers, oil paints and turpentine, fabric paints, spray adhesives, aerosols, super-glues, solvents, polymer clays, pastel chalks and rubber cement.
Also, always make sure there is adequate ventilation in your child’s work space and that they wash his/her hands after using any art materials, especially before eating.
Safe Toy Resources
Magic Cabin – Child-friendly, non-toxic toys and treasures.
Nova Natural – Eco-friendly and socially responsible products that encourage children’s creativity and spirit.
Pristine Planet – Organic cotton toys from this “green comparison shopping engine for eco-savvy consumers.”