In the mad rush to cross everyone off your Christmas list, safety may not be front of mind. And we tend to think that ‘if I can buy it, it must be safe’. But unfortunately that bargain you spot while you’re browsing the aisles or online may not always offer the protection you’d expect.

Here we share our top tips for shopping safely for children this Christmas…

Take care where you buy from

Remember that online marketplaces are just that – lots of different traders under one roof. You may be buying from a seller in the Far East, where safety standards for toys are very different to ours.

Real-life market traders and discount stores may also be importing from countries with very different safety standards too. Trading standards have seized toys that quickly fall apart, revealing sharp metal spikes and nails, or with cords and balls that could easily choke a young child.

Of course there are laws designed to make sure toys are safe. But trading standards can’t be everywhere, checking every car boot sale and pop-up shop. So you need to take care where you buy from.

If your budget can stretch to it, head to reputable retailers on the high street or online, or to the websites of well-known brand names. And if you’re counting the pennies this Christmas, look out for things like CE marks and Lion Marks on toys.

Marks to guide you

A CE mark is required by law on any toy sold in the EU. It is the manufacturer’s claim that the toy complies with European safety legislation.
A Lion Mark is a good indicator of a toy’s safety. It shows that the product has been made by a member of the British Toy and Hobby Association, to a high standard of safety and quality.

But remember that CE marks and Lion Marks can be faked, so use your judgement. If a bargain seems too good to be true – say it costs less than half the normal price – then it probably is!

Exploring the world one mouthful at a time

Babies and toddlers put nearly everything in their mouths, which is why some toys are marked with age restrictions, in case little ones choke on small parts or loose hair. 

Look out for this symbol as a helpful guide. It shows toys that aren’t meant for children under 36 months. 

And think about special needs too. For example, children with learning disabilities may develop in different ways to other children the same age. Use your judgement and, if you’re not sure, ask their parents for advice.

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 easy accessible to curious little fingers. And powerful lithium coin cell batteries can seriously harm or even kill a child who swallows one. So keep them away from kids.

On the receiving end

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

We’ve been encouraging families to lose the lasers. That’s because powerful laser pointers can cause irreversible damage to a child’s eyes.

If your child is given a laser pointer by a well-meaning relative or family friend, use the excitement of unwrapping present after present to quietly move it somewhere safe until you can safely dispose of it. Take care it doesn’t get buried under layers of wrapping paper, to be played with later.

Some toys – for example, chemistry sets for the budding scientist in the family – need adult supervision. So make sure any experiments take place on the kitchen table and not up in their bedroom. 

Make sure that toys powered by button batteries have secure battery compartments. Watch out too for presents that come with spare button batteries, for example ‘fish food’ or ‘bug food’ for robot fish or bug toys. Store them somewhere safe, out of reach of children, until they’re needed.

And if that new favourite toy is eating up batteries like there’s no tomorrow, remember that a ‘flat’ button 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.

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More information

For more information on toy safety, visit the Office for Product Safety and Standards.

And see this new animation on keeping safe around button batteries, produced by the European Portable Battery Association: