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For a safe holiday choose age-appropriate toys

Consumer Reports News: December 06, 2011 12:08 PM

We all love to see a child's face light up when they receive a toy they really want. Without being a Grinch, though, it’s sensible to be sure that well-meaning and doting relatives select toys that are age appropriate for your little ones.

“Follow the age recommendations,” said Dr. Garry Gardner, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. “It’s a safety issue, not about intelligence.”

Dr. Beth Ebel, a member of the AAP Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. also suggested that parents give grandparents, family and friends ideas for other kinds of presents, too, like “experiences, craft projects and books.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers helpful guidelines about types of toys that are developmentally appropriate and safe for young children. There are also useful suggestions from Safe Kids, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission about toy recalls and standards. Also be sure to heck out Consumer Reports toy buying guide

Some ideas:
• In general, don’t give children under 10 toys that need to be plugged into an electrical outlet.
• Toys meant for children under 3 cannot have parts less than 1 ¼ inches in diameter and 2 ¼ inches long.
• Be sure to remove strings and ribbons from toys before giving them to young children
• Make sure that pull toys don’t have strings that are more than 12 inches long, as they can be a strangulation hazard.
• For newborns to one-year-olds, consider squeaky toys, activity quilts and floor activity centers, or soft dolls and stuffed animals ; remember, though, that none of these items should ever be left in your baby’s crib, where they can be a suffocation hazard.
• For one to three-year-olds, plush and pull toys, soft blocks, books, and large blocks are good possibilities.
• For three to five-year-olds, anything that stimulates pretend or make-believe play are great ideas, as are non-toxic art supplies and outdoor toys.
• For elementary school children, consider jump ropes, arts and crafts kits, puppets, or miniature dolls and action figures.

“For small children, the biggest issue is the choking hazard,” said Dr. Ebel.
“Assume the toy will go in their mouth. A simple rule is that if any part of the toy can fit in a toilet paper roll, it can be something your child can choke on.” Given young children’s propensity to taste their toys, Dr. Ebel urged parents to consider where the toys are produced, to avoid possible contamination from unsafe substances like lead that could be used in paints, or plastics that have unsafe chemicals.

Drs. Gardner and Ebel are also concerned about children’s toys that may contain magnets, like building toys, or certain types of puzzles. “When these magnets pop out, if a child swallows them, they work their way through the intestines,” said Dr. Gardner.

Parents need to be especially careful when the extended family is gathered together to open presents. Even when grandparents and aunts and uncles have complied, by giving your young child appropriate gifts, what to do when the older cousins want to work on complicated construction sets, or are busy flashing the newest technological trophy?

“What’s good for an eight-year-old is a poor choice for the two-year-old,” said Dr. Ebel. Admittedly, it’s not fair to the older child to deny her the pleasure of her new toy. A better solution, suggested Dr. Ebel, is to provide plastic containers and bins, so that toys with potentially dangerous small parts, batteries or magnets, can be kept safely away from the youngest children.

“The bottom line for all of this is supervision,” said Dr. Gardner.

See our buying advice and Ratings (available to subscribers) for a wide variety of products for babies and kids.

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Merri Rosenberg

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