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    Avoid Toy Horror Stories

    Six toy-buying tips to keep your kids safe.

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    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.

    Keep Kids Away From Balloons

    This advice almost seems alarmist. But the fact is that latex balloons are the number one nonfood choking hazard, according to the CPSC. "Even children as old as 8 have choked on a deflated balloon," says Ken Giles, spokesman for the CPSC. "The latex covers the back of the throat, suffocating the child." Other top choking hazards include nuts, hard candy, and popcorn.

    Avoid Buying Toys From Thrift Shops and Garage Sales

    "The toy industry, in cooperation with the CPSC, does a good job of getting items off the store shelves in the event of a recall," says Giles. "But you'll still find a lot of recalled items at thrift stores."

    Furniture in particular -- highchairs, playpens, cribs -- should be purchased new and not from a garage sale, where it may be damaged or not in compliance with newer industry standards. Also, clothing found at thrift stores may still have drawstrings, which present a choking hazard.

    Be Wary of Electronic Toys

    There are two reasons for this. First, some electric toys contain a heating element that can cause burns. "A heating element is essentially a toy with an electric light bulb," explains Giles. "Toy kitchen ranges, for example, use these, and shouldn't be played with by kids under 8."

    And second, electronic toys use batteries. "The danger with electronic toys is not electrocution, but rather choking," explains Mickalide. "Kids can take out the batteries and put them in their mouth," she explains. Most new electric toys have childproof battery compartments, but you should always be cautious.

    Finally, be sure to safely dispose of any wrapping paper or plastic that comes off that carefully selected toy. And don't forget to give your child the most important gift of all: time spent with you!

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