Little Parts, Big Hazards: Tips for Avoiding Choking Hazards

As the mom of a four-year-old daughter and an 18-month-old son, I face the daily battle of keeping my kids entertained while also keeping them safe. Anyone with a toddler probably knows that they try to put anything and everything in their mouths. I will spare you the examples of interesting things my son has grabbed from the floor to try to eat, but toys are certainly no exception. All of his toys have gone into or near his mouth, making me the gatekeeper barring entry of anything that may present a choking hazard. 

So what is a choking hazard for little ones my son's age? You may see a lot of toy packages or instructions with a warning that says: "Not for children under 3 years old." The reason for this is that the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) mandates that toys smaller than 2.25 inches long by 1.25 inches wide, or that contain parts smaller than that, be banned as hazardous substances for children under 3, because they present a choking hazard. Though it is slightly larger than the limits established by the FHSA for choking hazards, a good reference is a toilet paper roll which is about 1.5 inches in diameter, and about 4 inches long; if a toy could fit inside, it may be a choking hazard.

Parents are faced with a unique challenge when older kids are sharing play space with kids under 3. Four-year-olds like my daughter want everyone to know that they are "big kids," and consequently they want big kid toys. Our playroom is often an explosion of every preschool toy imaginable, along with the little pieces that go with them. As you might guess, my son is fascinated with everything my daughter touches. So I am often faced with this conundrum – how do I keep all of those small parts from my daughter's toys away from my son?  Here are some ideas that have worked for me:

Choking HazardConsider investing in a test cylinder. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has approved a specially designed test cylinder that fits the exact dimensions required by the FHSA that can be purchased online for about $15. As I walk around my own home, my eyes are on the floor like magnetic radar for anything that might fit within a choking test cylinder. I constantly pick up small things from the floor that I have the slightest suspicion may pose a choking hazard. If your kids are my kids' ages, purchasing a test cylinder is a good investment. Worst case scenario, grab a roll of toilet paper and if any small object in your home fits within the roll, keep it away from kids under 3.   

Identify an elevated place to keep small toys. I typically put small parts I gather from around my home on our mantle above our fireplace. My daughter is often not happy about this. But when my little guy is at home and not sleeping, she knows that her toy pieces are going to be on the mantle (out of her reach as well) until it is safe for them to come down again.

Recruit older children to keep small toys contained and out of the reach of toddlers. To further minimize the risk to your little ones, you may want to invest in some bins, buckets or other compartments specially reserved for your preschooler. My daughter loves to gather and collect all of her things in one place. If I hand her a canvas bag or bucket, she is in collector heaven! This is a good way to collect all of those small parts when your toddler is around, and it makes your preschooler feel like they have their own special carrier to keep their things. Just make sure that special carrier of tiny parts is nowhere near your toddler.   

I know I'm not the only parent with ideas on how to protect against choking hazards. Please share your suggestions below!