How to select hearing-friendly toys for children

November 07, 2013
Noisy toys

The holidays can be a deafening experience for your child–literally–and you may not even realize it.

“If you’re a parent, you’ve probably become so accustomed to the noise level of your kids’ favorite toys that you don’t give it a second thought,” says UCI Health otolaryngologist Dr. Hamid Djalilian.

Because hearing loss can begin early in life, Djalilian has made it his mission to protect young ears right from the start.

“It’s important to know that loud, recurrent sounds can damage your child’s hearing.”

List of Noisy Toys

Dr. Hamid Djalilian and his team provide their list of this season's loudest toys.

Learn More ›

Protecting young ears

Banishing loud toys from the home entirely may be easier said than done. After all, it’s not always possible to prevent well-meaning friends and relatives from giving your child shrieking toys.

Djalilian suggests a couple of things you can do keep the volume to eardrum-friendly levels:

  • Put occlusive tape or super glue over the speaker to mute the sound
  • Put tape over the volume control, preventing your child from increasing the volume to unsafe levels

The physician also recommends giving your children a crash course on hearing safety.

“It’s crucial to teach your child how to play with toys properly,” says Djalilian.

That means teaching them not to put noisy toys near their ears. It also means enforcing time limits for the loudest toys.

“The louder the toy, the shorter the playing time,” Djalilian recommends.

Testing for loudness

Djalilian suggests a simple four-step test to help parents find toys that won't hurt young ears:

  • Ear test. Hold each toy as close to your ear as your child would. Is the toy too loud for you at this distance?
  • Arm test. Hold the toy away from you, approximating the length of your child’s arm. If the toy is too noisy for you at this distance, it’s not safe for your child.
  • Talk test. If you have to shout above the sound effects so you can be heard, it’s a sure sign that the toy could damage your child’s hearing.
  • Try-me buttons. Try-me buttons allow you to test a toy’s sound effects in the store. “Toy manufacturers state that the toy will be quieter at home because the try-me sound level is adjusted to overcome background noise in the store,” says Djalilian. “But tests on a limited sample of toys showed there is little difference between the sound level in the store and at home.”

Recommended toys

Each year around Thanksgiving, Djalilian and his team visit several toy stores. During the scientific expedition, the team purchases dozens of the year's most popular toys.

Each toy is then tested in a laboratory to determine its loudness level in decibels (dB). Djalilian compiles the results of those tests into a list of the best and worst toys.

“The ability to hear is precious,” says Djalilian, who plans to continue calling attention to the dangers of noisy toys. “Noise is the No. 1 cause of preventable hearing loss. The goal of our annual list is to preserve children’s hearing by getting word out about the potential hazards of sound-enhanced toys.”