A few years ago I spotted a magnetic construction set and fell in love. It seemed like the most perfect open-ended toy to buy for Hamish, who at the time was about 2 and a half years old.
The toy however had an age rating of 6 + and after reading many horror stories of children who had accidentally swallowed magnets, I fully understood why.
Magnetic toys are fun. They are wonderful for STEM development and open-ended play and they open up a world of learning through play possibilities but they do need to be chosen with care and supervised in young children.
High-powered magnets, also known as rare earth magnets, are more powerful than other magnet types. These rare earth magnets are also used in objects like MRI machines, household vacuums, and washing machines.
Why magnets are dangerous
The danger in magnetic toys lies mainly in a child swallowing the magnets as they are much more complex than button batteries to extract.
If more than one magnet is swallowed, the magnets will attract each other inside the body, trapping tissue between them and cutting off blood supply which will cause internal injuries, specifically to the intestines and bowels, and result in life-threatening injuries.
A child would then need surgery to remove the magnets and dependant on the extent of your child’s injuries, they may need additional surgery, bowel reconstruction, and time in a pediatric ICU.
Another danger to a child ingesting a magnet is suffocation as the magnet may get lodged in their throat, even if removed this may cause permanent damage to their digestive tract.
Knowing this you are not going to be buying small children strong magnets and even those within a casing need to be checked for quality to see how easy a young child can break it.
So how do you allow your child to play with magnetic toys and still ensure that your child plays safely?
1. Keep small, loose magnets away from young children.
2. Supervise any magnetic play with young children, especially if these are small enough to swallow.
3. Keep track of how many magnets your child is playing with and count again before packing away.
4. Keep all fridge magnets higher than your child can reach.
5. Talk to your child about the risks of swallowing a magnet and let them know it’s safe to tell you even if they have swallowed one.
6. Choose quality safety tested magnetic toys. Those that are encased or too large for a toddler to swallow.
Signs and symptoms
How will you know if your child has swallowed a magnet?
1. They may tell you.
2. You will notice one missing when you pack away the magnetic toys.
3. You have discovered a broken magnetic toy casing and can not locate the magnets.
If any of these occur your child may experience the following symptoms:
If you suspect your child has swallowed a magnet, take them to your medical practitioner straight away.
About magnetic toys
All magnetic toys should have passed toy safety regulations, however, with a large number of fidget toys and magnetic toys now available online, there are no guarantees. It is best not to assume that a toy has passed a safety standard and to take necessary precautions when your child plays with it.
Always check the instructions and product labels and the age applicable guide when buying magnetic toys.
Ensure that when choosing a magnetic toy for little ones, that there are no small magnetic parts. Anything with a magnetic Flux index of > 50kg2mm2 should be avoided.
Magnetic toys offer hours of creative and imaginative play but should be chosen with care and supervised accordingly.