By mid-morning on Christmas Day (at the latest…yawn!) many of us will find ourselves knee-deep in (hopefully recyclable) wrapping paper and overexcited children. But do we know what may be lurking below the sea of paper that could cause more misery than cheer this Christmas?

Everything is a toy when children are little. With all the excitement and busyness, it’s easy for little hands to find things that aren't meant for them and might be dangerous.

Here we give you the low-down on keeping Christmas unwrapping fun and avoiding the risks that are so easy to overlook in all the chaos.

Everything is a toy

Thirty years later, your mum is probably still telling that story of how, when you were little, you preferred playing with the box to the expensive Christmas present that came in it. While it might make us squirm, it’s a reminder that children see the world very differently to us. 

When you’re little, most things look like playthings, including that singing Santa and flashing Christmas wand. But they’re classed as festive novelties, not toys, so don’t follow the same safety standards and could actually be harmful. 

For example, the button batteries that power many Christmas novelties may be easily accessible to curious little fingers. Powerful lithium coin cell batteries can seriously harm or even kill a child who swallows one. So keep them away from kids.

What’s more, many gifts for grown-ups are powered by lithium coin cell batteries too. They may have buttons and surfaces that young children love to play with. And the battery compartments may be accessible to little fingers. These include 3D glasses, key finders, digital scales, gaming headsets and fitness trackers.

Take a look at our poster Button batteries: Where are yours? for more inspiration on gifts to keep away from little fingers.

What else lurks amongst the wrapping?

Our more thoughtful friends and relatives may think to put spare batteries in with a present. And some toys come with spare button batteries in the packaging, for example ‘fish food’ or ‘bug food’ for robot fish or bug toys

Remember to store them somewhere safe, out of reach of children, until they’re needed.

And once that new favourite toy has used up its first batteries, remember that a ‘flat’ lithium coin cell battery can still have enough electrical charge left to badly injure a child.

So put ‘flat’ or ‘dead’ batteries out of children’s reach straight away and recycle them safely.

On the receiving end

Christmas is all about giving. But what if your child is given a present you’re not sure about?

Laser pointers may seem like the perfect stocking filler, but a powerful laser pointer can cause irreversible damage to a child’s eyes. There are no surgical or medical treatments to reverse the damage.

“It happens so fast even your blink reflect can’t protect you.”

The law says that all laser pointers sold in the UK must be safe. However, many do not conform to these safety standards, even if they are labelled as safe. False labelling is now a real problem. Tests have shown that lasers may be 40 to 80 times more powerful than the label implies.

Older children’s presents with small parts, magnets and marbles can be a choking hazard for younger children. Magnets are especially dangerous if a child swallows more than one, as they can be attracted to each other in the gut and cause serious damage.

Some toys will be marked with age restrictions. Look out for this symbol as a helpful guide. It shows toys that aren’t meant for children under 36 months.

Cot toys, cot bumpers and cot nests are all very cute. But they’re best out of your baby’s cot. The Lullaby Trust’s advice is that ‘the safest cot is a clear cot’. This reduces the risk of head-covering and other accidents.

Noisy toys such as cap guns can damage hearing. If children find these under the tree this Christmas, make sure they keep them well away from anyone’s head.

Staying safety savvy

So what do you do if your child is given a present you’re worried about by a well-meaning relative or family friend?

You can use the excitement of unwrapping present after present to quietly move it somewhere safe until you can either dispose of it safely or put it away until your child is old enough to manage it. Take care it doesn’t get buried under layers of wrapping paper, to be played with later.

To dispose of lasers, remove the battery and check with your local council website about recycling or disposal.

Still not sure?

Look at the toy and think if any of the features might be a concern. Could your child:

  • Choke on small bits, loose filling, stuffing or seams?
  • Get strangled on long cords, ribbon or cables?
  • Eat something harmful like magnets or lithium coin cell batteries.

The things to consider will vary depending on the age and ability of your child, but use your best judgment.

A watchful eye

Remember some toys need adult supervision, such as toys used in water or baking kits and chemistry sets that are only suitable for children over 10.

So make sure any experiments take place with you nearby – on the kitchen table and not up in their bedroom. 

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