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Healthy Living: Safer toys for the holidays


How’s that holiday shopping going? If you’re like most of us, you’ve probably still got at least a few gifts to pick up. So this is a good time to remind you that December is Safe Toys and Gifts Month – a time set aside to help us focus on choosing safe, age-appropriate presents, especially for the youngest family members and friends in our lives.

Sponsored by Prevent Blindness America, the observation comes at a good time; most children receive more toys in December than they get the rest of the year! And, of course, many of those toys come from grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, godparents, and other family members and friends who may be unfamiliar with current toy safety standards and recommendations, and who may be years removed from buying toys on a regular basis.

Some ideas before heading out to buy presents for the kiddos:

  1. Take a minute to research toys that have been recalled recently.  www.cpsc.gov/  is a great place to start. Although most retailers do their best to pull recalled items promptly, sometimes there can be a brief period between the announcement of a recall and the time the item is removed from shelves.
  2. Buy toys that are age-appropriate. Read the age recommendations and warnings on the toy package and follow them, even if you think the intended recipient is mature for her or his age. This is especially important for younger children; there’s a huge developmental difference between a two-year-old and children even a year or 18 months older, which is why so many toys carry warnings that they are not to be used for children under three. But even for older children, it can prevent frustration or boredom; few six-year-olds will be able to understand or build a toy or game meant for eight- or 10-year-olds.
  3. Choose sturdy toys. Lightweight plastics can break into shards that could cut a child; toys with many parts can easily break or quit working. You can look for the letters ASTM on the label; this means the toy has met national safety standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials.
  4. Avoid loud toys. The parents will thank you, for one thing. But also, some toys, especially toy guns, phones and electronic toys, can emit sounds as loud as 120 decibels – loud enough to permanently damage a child’s hearing.
  5. Read video game labels and ratings. For children, the EC (early childhood) or E (everyone) rating is recommended, but be careful; some E games contain some violence or even mild language. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, read some reviews before buying.
  6. Check on food allergies. Candy and nuts may seem like harmless stocking stuffers – unless the recipient has allergies! If you’re unsure, use stocking stuffers like  hard candy or popcorn that are unlikely to prompt an allergy, or stay away from food entirely and choose inexpensive items like colorful pencils or markers, stickers or temporary tattoos.
  7. If in doubt, ask the parent. If you’re buying for someone else’s child and unsure if your choice is suitable, be sure the parent will approve of your selection. For instance, chemistry sets, certain video games, and BB guns may have been great gifts for your child, but another parent may feel his or her child isn’t sufficiently mature, even if they meet the age guidelines.

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