Choosing Safe Christmas Toys Isn't Child's Play

Expert offers tips to picking out appropriate playthings

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SUNDAY, Dec. 3, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Don't toy with your child's safety this Christmas.

When picking toys, be sure to consider the youngster's age, interests and skill levels, said Dr. Michael Gittelman, an emergency medicine physician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

Adults also need to read product warnings and labels on toys; avoid items with sharp edges and points; look for sturdy construction; quickly discard plastic wrappings after the toy is opened; and keep older children's toys away from younger siblings.

"Children under five years -- and especially those under three years -- are particularly vulnerable to airway obstruction due to small airways, inexperience with chewing and a natural tendency to put everything in their mouths," Gittelman said in a prepared statement.

Choking was the cause of more than 90 percent of toy-related deaths in the United States in 2003, safety experts note. Toy balls and latex balloons were responsible for most of those deaths. Parents can buy a "choke tube" to test if a toy or toy parts pose a choking hazard. A choke tube is a small plastic cylinder with a diameter that's about the same as a child's airway. If an object fits entirely in the choke tube, it's small enough to be a choking hazard.

Riding toys are another major hazard.

"Riding toys (including unpowered scooters) are associated with more injuries than any other toy group," Gittleman warned. "Death may occur when a child is hit by a motor vehicle, or when a child rides the toy into a body of water or down the stairs. The majority of riding toy-related injuries occur when children fall from toys."

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) offers the following age-appropriate guidelines for toys:

  • Newborns to age one: crib gyms, floor activity centers, activity quilts, squeaky toys, soft dolls or stuffed animals.
  • Ages one to three: soft blocks, large blocks, push and pull toys, books, pounding and shaping toys.
  • Ages three to five: nontoxic art supplies, pretend toys (i.e. play money, telephone), teddy bears or dolls, outdoor toys (i.e. tricycle and helmet).
  • Ages five to nine: arts and crafts kits, puppets, jump ropes, action figures, miniature dolls.
  • Ages nine to 14: handheld electronic games, board games, sports equipment with protective gear, model kits, musical instruments.

More information

The CPSC has more about toy safety.

SOURCE: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, news release, November 2006

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