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Healthy Toys for Happy Kids

Green_car_shutterstock_169820030By Erin Speiser, PhD, MA
With the deluge of toys available to kids, sorting through related health information may feel like a challenging road to navigate. Thankfully, there’s a few simple guidelines to help ensure that the toys in your home are as safe as possible, and support their health and wellbeing:  
  • Avoid - or use extra caution with - hand-me-down toys. A 2022 study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found significantly higher levels of toxins in older toys than in new toys. Among the old toys and dress-up items tested, 84% contained toxins that can hinder children’s growth and development, may cause cancer and/or lead to reproductive issues. This was also true for 30% of new toys. The toxins found include phthalates and other plasticizers, as well as flame retardants. Plasticizers are chemicals that “soften” plastics to make them pliable, such as vinyl. For help avoiding flame retardants in toys, electronics and your home, see this video from Environmental Working Group (EWG) featuring quick tips. 


  • When possible, opt for toys made from natural materials such as wood. These can be found at big box stores (think wooden puzzles, building kits, etc.), local shops and online. The bonus here is that many wooden toys encourage open-ended, imaginative play and can work especially well for children with developmental and other disabilities.


  • For kids wanting electronics, this may be something worth delaying as long as possible. Environmental Health Trust has a series of printables featuring guidance from American Academy of Pediatrics with simple tips for limiting wireless exposure for everyone in the family, especially kids and teens. 


  • Consider toy swaps or simply sharing toys with friends. This extends the life of what you have and brings joy to another child. When the “lent” toys come back to your home, your child may have a renewed interest!


  • Have a “toy rotation” where a bin of toys gets packed away and brought out on rainy days or any time your child needs something “new” to play with. Seeing the same playthings day after day can make a child think they have “nothing to do” which may be solved by stashing away some toys and re-introducing them. 


  • Find free toys at the local library or community center. The children’s section of many libraries have toys, including puzzles for a variety of ages, train sets, puppets and more, and even groups where kids can build together, which boosts social skills. Some even have a “library of things” that allow families to take out educational toys and video games, which can be reserved online. 
Choosing toys brings the opportunity to support kids’ growth and development at every stage from birth to late teens, and discover ways to find free or low-cost options that support kids’ whole health. 
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