Christmas toys; tips on keeping holidays safe

You better watch out … you’d better not cry … it’s time to start hitting the toy stores again, in search of that perfect holiday present for that perfect little angel in your life. Although the holiday season “officially” starts the day after Thanksgiving’Nov. 23 this year’every toy-shopping adult knows that finding just the right child’s gift can be more time consuming than that. “Hot” toys vary from season to season and age to age, but Dr. Linda Jouridine, Texas Cooperative Extension health specialist, stresses that trendy toys aren’t always the best ‘ or the safest. In fact, she said, put children’s safety first all year long. Along with having young vehicle passengers ride in age-appropriate car seats and keeping children’s immunizations up to date, giving children safe toys is vital. Nowhere is this more critical than with that classic American holiday gift’the bicycle’and other riding toys. According to figures from the Texas Department of Health, Product Safety Division, each year about 300 deaths and 400,000 injuries in children younger than 15 are associated with bicycles, Jouridine said. Another “hot” item in recent years has been the razor scooter’another wheeled, riding toy designed for children. “But we see 100,000 injuries (annually) associated with scooters,” she said. As far as the ever-popular inline skates and old-fashioned roller skates are concerned’injuries just naturally occur when wheels are put on kids’ feet. Many of those deaths and injuries can be prevented through the use of safety equipment designed for these young riders, Jouridine said. “What parents did was fail to heed the number one safety suggestion’when giving a wheeled present, make sure to give all the appropriate safety equipment also.” For example, inline skaters should also be equipped with safety helmet as well as wrist, elbow, knee and shin pads, she said. “Protective gear is not just a bid for manufactures to try to get more money,” she said, “but is an important part of safety.” Another vital aspect of safety in children’s toys is age-appropriateness, Jouridine said. While infants and toddlers aren’t the best recipients for bicycles and inline skates, they do appreciate toys designed for children their ages. And adult shoppers should always keep age in mind when shopping for children. “In general, make sure to read the warning labels (on toys) for age recommendations,” Jouridine said. Don’t go by the child’s level of intelligence, she said, but by his or her age. A two-year-old child really might be as smart as a five-year-old, she said, but he’s still only two, and “he’s still going to put buttons in his mouth.” Don’t buy any items with cords or strings for children younger than about two, Jouridine said, because these cords can wrap around a child’s neck and strangle him or her. For these young gift-recipients, Jouridine recommends toys that will stimulate the children’s brain development and motor coordination through bright colors, sounds and activities. “Make sure everything is large enough so it can’t get lodged in a baby’s throat,” she added. In fact, never give children under age five toys with small parts, including marbles, small balls and balloons. As colorful and festive as they are, balloons, as well as these other items, are still a choking hazard for children, she said. “As a general rule,” Jouridine said, “buy toys with sturdy construction, and nothing (no small parts) that can come loose or come apart.” Keep these recommendations in mind even if the child receiving the gift is older, but has smaller siblings in the house. Children who are older, up to about age eight, should still not receive any toys with sharp points or metal edges, she said. “If you buy arrows or darts, make sure they have protective tips or suction cups that stay secure.” Toys that operate through electricity or that have heating elements ‘ such as woodworking sets or ovens ‘ are not recommended for children younger than eight, she added. Because of the current situation in this country and the world, Jouridine said, parents and other adults should consider all the issues before deciding whether or not to purchase toy guns for their children. Toy guns for children have been controversial for years, but now, Jouridine said, “I am concerned that many law enforcement officials, operating under a heightened sense of security post 9/11, might mistake a toy gun for a real one.” Over and above the current controversies involving toy guns, she added, the Texas Department of Health has issued a warning that toy cap pistols can damage a child’s hearing. Whatever the age of the child or the kind of toy purchased, Jouridine recommended, immediately discard any plastic wrapping or packaging the toy came in, “to prevent choking or suffocation.” All in all, her advice is to: ‘ Follow label recommendations as to use of the toy and appropriate age; ‘ Eliminate choking hazards; ‘ Include the right protective gear when purchasing riding toys; and ‘ Look for toys that are sturdy and will not come apart easily. By shopping with these four steps in mind, Jouridine said, adults can “insure a safe, happy holiday season for their children.”

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