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Avoid Toy Horror Stories

Six toy-buying tips to keep your kids safe.
By
WebMD Feature

Stuffing your little collector's stocking with his heart's desires may be high on your list. But every parent's number one concern should be to make sure that whatever it is you wrap up for your child this year, it's safe. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 120,000 children were treated in hospital emergency rooms in 1998 for toy-related injuries, and 14 children died.

Being a member of the safety police is a year-round job for any parent. But the batch of new toys introduced during the holidays each year calls for extra caution. Here are some life-saving rules to follow this season and every day hereafter.

Stay Updated on Toy Recalls

By far, most toys on the market today are safe. But occasionally a company will voluntarily recall a product because of defects or reports of injuries or death. The CPSC has set up an automated email list that will help you stay up-to-date with recalls. Send the message "Join CPSCINFO-L" to listproc@cpsc.gov and you'll be automatically added to the list.

And if you find a problem with a toy or product, email the CPSC at info@cpsc.gov or call their hotline at 800-638-2772. The organization also maintains a list of recalled products on their website.

Make Sure Toys Are Appropriate to Your Child's Age

Most toy-related deaths occur in children who are 4 and under, says Angela Mickalide, Program Director at National Safe Kids Campaign, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization. Choking is the number one cause of death. It's crucial that children 4 and under are not playing with toys meant for their older siblings: tiny building blocks, arts and crafts kits, board games with small playing pieces -- anything with small objects that could be accidentally swallowed.

"Some parents think that their preschooler is smarter than other kids that age, and therefore they allow her to play with toys that are not meant for her age level," says Mickalide. "But the truth is that injury is not related to intelligence but to physiological and cognitive development."

Read Beyond the Labels

Most toy manufacturers do properly warn consumers about potential choking hazards in their toys, as the law requires. But a startling report -- issued this November by the nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) -- finds that some toy manufacturers don't comply with these regulations. The PIRG survey reveals that some warning labels don't get updated, and that some stores still sell small unpackaged toys -- such as small rubber balls -- without warning labels.

To help you determine what size toy might be a choking hazard, National Safe Kids Campaign suggests that you buy a "small parts tester," available at toy, drug, and hardware stores. By placing parts inside this inexpensive device, you can see whether or not they are of choking size.

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