Safe or Not? 10 Household Items Toddlers Love to Play With

You did your research and bought your toddler the best toys for his development — they’re toxin-free, fair trade, and age-appropriate. But they lie untouched as your little one gnaws on household items, like the remote control unearthed from the couch, ruining all your DVR settings in the process.

The only thing that can distract him from that task seems to be the lure of the dog’s water bowl, but is it safe? Is there any harm if he’s happy being entertained and learning about the world? “Toys come with a warning, ‘Not for use under a certain age,’ but everyday items do not,” says Mark Zonfrillo, M.D., a pediatric emergency medicine physician and injury researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, there are potential hazards lurking in some of the household items that toddlers love to play with, so we ran a list of kids’ favorites by safety experts to see which ones are okay to keep in the playtime repertoire — and which ones should be kept out of reach.

Metal Keys

Why Kids Love Them: They’re shiny and toy-size, make a great jangling sound, and are fun to hide and seek in small places like pockets and bags.

Potential Problem: Keys are made of brass or nickel-plated brass, some with added lead. “Your keys may or may not contain traces of lead, but they certainly contain traces of metal,” says Courtney Ilarraza, owner of Baby Bodyguards, a babyproofing service in New York City. “They also tend to be stuck into dirty and greasy areas. Not the ideal things for your child to have in his mouth.” Plus, sharp edges aren’t ideal around little eyes.

Play or Take Away? Take away. Replace metal keys with (BPA-free plastic) toy keys.

Remote Controls

Why Kids Love Them: All those colorful, soft buttons that show flashing lights when pressed make remote controls satisfying toys, especially when they can turn other things on and off!

Potential Problem: Unfortunately, remotes are made up of many small parts, and some still use coin-size lithium ion batteries, which could be fatal if ingested. “While it’s often difficult for an adult to remove the batteries, children quickly discover that they come out after banging the remote against the floor,” Ilarraza says.

Play or Take Away? Take away. Toy versions are acceptable substitutions.

Opened Packages

Why Kids Love Them: A box’s contents become forgotten when there’s cardboard for making basic houses and tunnels or when there’s hilarious bubble wrap to pop or packing peanuts to toss around.

Potential Problem: Sure, cardboard boxes usually get a thumbs-up, but what’s inside comes with a big caveat: Use under supervision only. Ilarraza once wrapped an entire room in bubble wrap for her son’s birthday party and kept a close eye on the kids. “Kids were just bouncing around as if it were a bounce house in there, popping them.” If your kids are not monitored closely, however, bubble wrap and other packing materials could be choking hazards.

Play or Take Away? Play, but only under your watch, and then remove everything when they’re done.

Pet Toys and Dishes

Why Kids Love Them: Fido’s toys look just like all the others on the rug, and the dog gets to splash around with a water bowl all day long.

Potential Problem: “Household pets are fun to play with, but they do carry a lot of bacteria in their mouth and from outside,” Dr. Zonfrillo cautions. Chew toys can also come apart in small, hazardous pieces, and there’s the potential for conflicts between the dog and the kid over toys or food, which rarely end well.

Play or Take Away? Take away. If you can’t put the water bowl out of reach, this is a good time to teach your kid the concept of “Don’t touch.”

Storage Containers of Food

Why Kids Love Them: The pantry is full of popcorn kernels, dried pasta, or grains in plastic canisters and yogurt containers; they double as fantastic noisemakers and shakers.

Potential Problem: “Keep in mind that [canisters are] probably going to open,” Ilarraza says; even something airtight could still open with enough banging. “Kids will then try to eat whatever spills out.”

Play or Take Away? Play. Just make sure that what’s stored in the canisters won’t cause choking hazards or allergies.


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