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Don't toy with safety

It's official ....toy season is here! From blocks, bicycles, balls, and board games, to dolls, dump trucks, drum sets, and dress-up, toys for all different ages are everywhere we turn. Toys should be fun, stimulating, developmentally and age appropriate, and last but not least SAFE!!

Millions of toys are out there, and hundreds of new ones hit the stores each year. Toys are supposed to be fun and are an important part of any child's development. But each year, scores of kids are treated in hospital emergency departments for toy-related injuries.

The most recent summary from the consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on toy injuries and deaths, reports that in 2009 an estimated 250,100 toy related injuries were treated in emergency departments (ED) in the United States. That would calculate to an estimated average of 685 ED visits each and every day just for toy injuries. The report also states the estimated number of toy related injuries in children has been increasing over the past few years.

What can we do to help keep our kids safe when it comes to potential toy injuries? Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when toy-shopping.

*Toys made of fabric should be labeled as flame resistant or flame retardant

*Stuffed toys should be washable

*Painted toys should be covered with lead-free paint

*Art materials should say nontoxic

*Crayons and paints should say ASTM D-4236 on the package, which means that they've been evaluated by the American Society for Testing and Materials.

Steer clear of older toys, even Hand-me-downs from friends and family. Those toys might have sentimental value and are certainly cost-effective, but they may not meet current safety standards and may be so worn form play that they can break and become hazardous.

Make sure a toy isn't too loud for your child. The noise of some rattles, squeak toys, and musical or electronic toys can be as loud as a car horn -even louder if the child holds it directly to the ears-and can contribute to hearing damage.

Manufactures follow certain guidelines and label most new toys for specific age groups. But perhaps the most important thing a parent can do is to supervise play.

Always read labels to make sure a toy is appropriate for a child's age. Guidelines published by the CPSC and other groups can help you make those buying decisions. Still, use your own best judgment-and consider your child's temperament, habits and behavior whenever you buy a new toy.

You may think that a child who's advanced in comparison to peers can handle toys meant for older kids. But the age levels for toys are determined by safety factors, not intelligence or maturity.

Here are some age specific guidelines to keep in mind:

For infants, toddlers, and Preschoolers

*Look for toys that are sturdy enough to withstand pulling and twisting. Make sure that eyes, noses, buttons, and other parts that could break off are surely attached.

Make sure squeeze toys, rattles, and teethers are large enough that they won't become lodged in a child's mouth or throat, even if squeezed into a smaller compressed shape.

void toys with cord or long strings, which could present a strangulation hazard to young kids.

Avoid thin plastic toys that might break into small pieces and leave jagged edges that could cut.

Avoid marbles, coins, balls, and games with balls that are 1.75 inches (4.4 centimeters) in diameter or less because they present choking hazards.

Since choking is such a big risk in the early years, if you child is 3 years old or younger, consider buying a small-parts test, also known as a choke tube. These tubes are designed to be about the same diameter as a child's windpipe. If an object fits inside the tube, then it's too small for a young child.

Bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and inline skates should never be used without helmets that meet current safety standards and other recommended safety gear, like hand, wrist and shin guards. Look for CPSC or Snell certification on the labels.

Nets should be well constructed and firmly attached to the rim so that they don't become a strangulation hazard.

Toy darts or arrows should have soft tips or suction cups at the end, not hard points.

Toy guns should be brightly colored so they cannot be mistaken for real weapons, and kids should be taught to never point darts, arrows, or guns at anyone.

BB guns or pellet rifles should not be give to kids under the age of 16.

Electric toys should be labeled UL, meaning they meet safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratories.

After you have bought safe toys, it's also important to make sure kids know how to use them. The best way to do this is by supervising play. Playing with your kids teaches them how to play safely while having fun.

Parents should:

*Teach kids to put toys away.

*Check toys regularly to make sure that they aren't broken or unusable:

*Wooden toys shouldn't have splinters.

*Bikes and outdoor toys shouldn't have rust.

*Stuffed toys shouldn't have broken seams or exposed removable parts.

*Throw away broken toys or repair them right away.

Store outdoor toys when they're not in use so that they are not exposed to rain or snow.

*And be sure to keep toys clean. Some plastic toys can be cleaned in the dishwasher, but read the manufacturer's directions first. Another option is to mix antibacterial soap or a mild dishwashing detergent with hot water in a spray bottle and use it to clean toys, rinsing them afterward.

Many non-toys can tempt kids. It's important to keep them away from fireworks, matches, sharp scissors and balloons (uninflated or broken balloons can be choking hazards).

Check the CPCS Website for the latest information about toy recalls or call their hotline at (800) 638-CPCS to report a toy you think is unsafe. If you have any doubt about a toy's safety, err on the side of caution and do not allow your child to play with it.

This information was provided by KidsHealth, one of the largest resources online for medically reviewed health information written for parents, kids, and teens. For more articles like this, visit or

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