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Parent Power

Tips On Picking Toys And Giving Them To Children
Although the United States has one of the toughest safety standards for toys, buying safe and appropriate toys for children still takes thought. The first rule of toy buying is to carefully examine the toy to determine if it is appropriate for the child in question. And second, to examine the toy for the product's quality.

The first place to begin your examination of a toy is the age recommendation on the product's package. If there is no age recommendation check with a sales clerk. This might be difficult because of the demise of local "mom and pop" toy stores because the employees in most large stores do not have product knowledge and may mislead you. Fortunately, some small "mom and pop" exist online, and a few, such as Live And Learn, will try to help you if you give them a phone call.

The age recommendations for toys can indicate different things. Our experience has found that a toy's age recommendation is a great barometer, but it is not absolute.

Toys which are labeled, "not for children under 3 years old" means the product has small parts or long strings or marbles, which may be a choking hazard to younger children. Current United States law states, if a toy is a choking hazard or dangerous there must be a warning on the product's package. If you are shopping online, or via a paper catalog, the law also states that a product's web page or catalog decription must also show the hazard warning.

Small parts could be lethal to children who are still putting things into their mouth. And toys which have strings or cords six inches or longer could cause strangulation.Thus, if you are buying such a toy for an older child who has a younger sibling at home, keep in mind--the younger child may get his or her hands on the toy. In such situations you may want to reconsider your purchase and buy a toy without the "under 3" warning.

If there is no "under 3" warning, then the toy is safe for all ages including babies. But just because a toy is safe does not mean it is appropriate for a younger child.

Age specific recommendations indicate the age group that might find the toy enjoyable or what skill level is needed to use the toy. Although you should try to stay within the recommended age levels, it is important to know the child for whom you are buying the toy.

Toy companies are often wrong in their age estimates, or make the age range a little broader than it should be to have a largest market base (and sell more toys).

By knowing the child who will get the toy, you are in a better position to know the child's likes, dislikes and skill level. Buying a toy that's too advanced can lead to frustration and may even be dangerous. Whereas, buying a toy that is not up to the child's level, or isn't the type of toy they like, will be quickly discarded by the child.

After you have selected a toy it is imperative that a responsible adult be present when the toy is given to the child. Even if the toy does not require adult supervision or guidance the adult should read all directions that come with the toy and explain to the child how the toy should be used.

Also, check the toy for small parts, sharp edges or other potential dangers. Stuffed animals and soft bodied dolls should always be examined for sturdy, well-sewn seams and that eyes, noses, buttons or other parts are on securely and cannot be pulled off by the child.

One way you can check a toy for small parts is by using the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper. If the toy fits in the tube, it might be small enough to choke a toddler.

Immediately after opening a toy, and this is VERY important, remove the package and all packing material. Toy packages may contain staples, plastic bags, Styrofoam and a variety of other material which can be dangerous to children of all ages.

And last, but not least, make sure you check your child's toys for worn or broken parts, loose screws and bolts, sharp points, splintering wood, jagged edges and other potential dangers every so often. Make sure you repair or throw away broken toys immediately.

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