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Give Safe Toys This Holiday Season

Safety considerations should top any wish list

SUNDAY, Dec. 2, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Whether it's due to the demands of commercial-addled kids or the good intentions of exuberant gift-givers, the concept of toy safety is often lost over the holidays.

But experts say safety considerations should be at the top of any wish list.

Case in point: Last year, the hot gift of the season -- scooters -- arrived under many a Christmas tree without any accompanying safety accessories. Consequently, more than 42,000 children were treated in hospital emergency rooms for scooter-related injuries, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports.

"We really want to get the message out to consumers to make sure to include safety gear with any sports-related gifts," says Nychelle Fleming, a CPSC spokeswoman. "With a scooter, for instance, you'd want to give all of the same gear you'd use with in-line skating -- a helmet and knee pads -- but not wrist guards because you need to have your wrists free to maneuver the scooter."

The chances of your kids receiving age-inappropriate gifts or gifts that don't include proper safety equipment increase over the holidays when many gift givers are relatives or friends not used to buying for children.

That's why it's important that you advise those friends to simply squint and read the labels on toys, Fleming says.

"The labels are often ignored, but they're there for a reason and usually can be an excellent guide if you're buying for children who aren't your own or [you] haven't been in a toy store for a long time," she says.

And if some unusual, second-hand toy happens to catch a shopper's eye, even more caution is needed. It's not uncommon for toys that have been recalled or are no longer considered safe to wind up on consignment-shop shelves.

The CPSC's Web site offers an extensive archive of product recalls, if you want to look up a questionable item.

Once the toys are in the house, a common mistake many parents make is having one toy box for toys belonging to all siblings, regardless of age, says Angela Mickalide, program director for the National SAFE KIDS Campaign.

"The toys for the older kids won't be stored separately from those for the younger children, so you might have a toddler in the house who's picking up small toy parts, and that's potentially injurious to them," she says.

Mickalide notes that of the 118,300 children treated at emergency rooms for toy-related injuries in 1999, about 60 percent were 4 years old and younger.

Choking on small toy parts is a particular concern. Equally worrisome are Latex balloons; four children reportedly died from choking on pieces of such balloons in the United States in 1999.

"Latex balloons are really problematic because they pop and then break into small pieces," says Mickalide. "The children then put them in their mouth because they're colorful and attractive, but the piece can block their esophagus and cause choking."

Here are some other types of toys that should be avoided, according to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign:

  • Toys with small, removable parts. The parts can pose a choking hazard to children under age 3. Use a small parts tester -- it can be purchased at a toy or baby specialty store -- to measure the size of the toy or part. If the piece fits inside the tube, then it is considered a choking hazard.
  • Toys with sharp points or edges. Children may unintentionally cut themselves or another person.
  • Toys that produce loud noises. Toy guns and high-volume portable cassette recorders can permanently impair a child's hearing.
  • Propelled toy darts and other projectiles. They can cause cuts or serious eye injuries.
  • Toys with strings, straps or cords longer than 7 inches. Long strings and cords can become wrapped around a child's neck and strangle him or her.
  • Electric toys. These are a potential burn hazard. Avoid toys with a heating element battery or electrical plugs if your children are under the age of 8.
  • Toys painted with lead paint. Exposure can result in lead poisoning, causing serious damage to a child's brain, kidneys and nervous system.
  • Toy cap guns. Paper roll, strip or ring caps can be ignited by the slightest friction and cause burns.

What to Do: You can read much more about giving the gift of safety this holiday season at the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. And visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission for more on toy safety and the latest product recalls.

SOURCES: Interviews with Nychelle Fleming, spokeswoman, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Bethesda, Md.; Angela Mickalide, Ph.D., program director, National SAFE KIDS Campaign, Washington, D.C.; National SAFE KIDS Campaign press release
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