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December 19, 2006 > ‘Tis the Season to Shop Safe for Kids

‘Tis the Season to Shop Safe for Kids

Shopping for Age Appropriate Toys and Parental Vigilance Fosters Safer Play

With the sometimes frantic holiday gift shopping at its height, it’s hard to miss all the
commercials and ads for the latest toys. But it’s also hard to miss the newscasts about
infants’ and kids’ toys that could potentially be hazardous.
   According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in 2005 an
estimated 152,400 children under 15 years old were treated for toy-related injuries in U.S.
hospital emergency rooms. Even more alarming, CPSC had reports of 20 toy-related
deaths involving children under age 15 that occurred last year.
   Many toys that are considered safe have been designed for children of specific ages
but can still pose a threat to younger infants and children. The good news is that many
times helpful guidelines for commercially sold toys indicate the appropriate age group
and can help guide parents, other caregivers and family members when purchasing toys
for younger members of the family.
   December, recognized as Safe Toys and Gifts Month, is the perfect time to brush up
on your toy safety knowledge before purchasing additional holiday gifts to help avoid
potential accidents.
   Think safety first
   Kathy Hesser, R.N., coordinator of Washington Hospital’s new Women’s Center and
former Maternal Child Education coordinator urges those purchasing toys for children
this holiday season to give extra thought to each purchase.
   “It really is very important to shop for age-appropriate toys because there are so many
toys out there that can be unsafe if they’re not used for the right age group,” Hesser
explains. “There are definitely toys out there made for infants that are unsafe. If you’re
putting a toy in a crib, you need to be aware of things like fuzzy hair or eyes that can be
chewed off, amongst other risk factors. Look at the main toy, as well as what comes with
it – maybe a doll that comes with a bottle. Does it come apart? Can it be choked on?”
   One common pitfall, Hesser points out, is when there are multiple children of varying
ages in the same household. A toy that may be appropriate for your seven-year-old is
likely not safe for your two-year-old, but it’s a good bet a younger child will want to play
with them regardless.
   Hesser also recommends that parents inspect toys to make sure they remain in good
condition. Toys that are malfunctioning or falling apart can pose a risk as well.
Additionally, Hesser suggests teaching children to pick up their toys and put them where
they belong – to help prevent mom or dad or someone else from tripping on them at night
or on the stairs and causing a stubbed toe or worse.
   Expect the unexpected with kids
   Toys parents might not think of as being unsafe can include things like refrigerator
magnets in the shape of letters of the alphabet which could potentially be swallowed by
younger children. Hesser points out that the magnets themselves can be highly unsafe if
swallowed, causing damage to the intestines.
   High velocity toys, such as water guns and toys that propel objects should be
reviewed carefully for age appropriateness and the possibility of injury.
   “Kids can get carried away with their toys and get really physical,” Hesser stresses.
“If a toy, because of the way it’s made, can be propelled through the air it could pose a
danger to other children, animals or adults.”
   For younger children and infants, Hesser suggests using the paper towel roll test on
their toys. Any object that can pass through the cardboard center of a regular paper towel
roll can pose a choking risk. And since most young children love putting toys – and
pretty much anything else – into their mouths, parents need to be aware of substances that
can be toxic, including some types of plastics.
   Parents should also be mindful of toys manufactured overseas, and in some cases may
not meet the same safety guidelines standard in the United States, according to Hesser.
   Other hazards can include holiday items, such as foods, candies and decorations that
can be choked on – and even the Christmas tree itself, which young children could pull
down upon themselves. Hesser recommends always supervising young children around
the tree to avoid injury.
   How to say ‘No’
   When advertising and marketing is in full tilt targeting children of all ages for so
many different types of toys, it is likely children will gravitate towards some toys that are
unsafe for them.
   So what should parents do during those times when your child really wants a toy that
may be inappropriate? Parental involvement is vital, Hesser says.
   “It’s a matter of consistency and firmness. If you say ‘No, that toy isn’t right for you’
and you don’t ever waiver, that will help. It’s good to be consistent. Guide them towards
something that they will like. And remember that anytime you’re doing something with
your child parental involvement is the real key to your child being happy. Playing family
games, visiting a new place or experiencing new things are the things they’re going to
   Do your homework
   Some toys on the market, like many of those featured on news programs during the
holidays, have been deemed unsafe by various consumer agencies. Hesser suggests that
parents do their own research to stay informed.
   “As parents, being savvy and looking at the toy safety Web sites is a great start,”
Hesser says. “But don’t scare yourself. You might think, ‘I’m not going to get them
anything’, but you just have to be careful. It can be scary looking at some of these sites,
but I think people need to be aware and then make their own informed decisions. Talk to
your pediatrician about your concerns; he or she can be a great resource.”
   To find a local pediatrician, visit and click on “Find a Physician.”
For more information about upcoming health education offered by Washington Hospital,
call the Health Connection line at (800) 963-7070 or tune into Comcast Channel 78,
InHealth, a Washington Hospital Channel.
   Washington Hospital offers several classes geared towards the health and wellness of
mothers, infants and young children. To see a list of classes, visit, click
on “Services & Programs,” select “Women’s Health,” and choose “Birthing Center” from
the drop-down menu.
   More Tips for Safe Toys and Gifts
*    Be aware of the dangers of shoes that can spring or propel your child.
*    Buy appropriate protective gear for the gifts you choose (e.g. bicycles,
rollerblades) and teach your child to use it.
*    If you’re choosing a toy that shoots water or propels other objects, ask yourself:
are other children protected?
*    Stay consistent when you tell your child “No.”
*    For infants and toddlers, avoid toys with string, rope or small pieces that might
pose a choking hazard.
*    For young children, avoid toys that wrap around their necks, such as guitar straps.
*    Make sure holiday candy and treats are out of reach.
*    Use the Internet to find out more using sites like the U.S. Consumer Product
Safety Commission Web site,, or Prevent Blindness America’s
Web site at
*    Keep up-to-date on consumer product warnings for children’s toys.

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