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Choosing Age-Appropriate Toys for the Holidays
By Dr. Paul Sirbaugh

'Tis almost the season for toy buying and advertisements galore. Before family members rush to purchase that special holiday surprise, I suggest checking your list twice to determine if items are appropriate for young children.

Reports from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that 140,700 children visited hospital emergency rooms last year for toy-related injuries. Thirteen children died. To prevent a tragic holiday season, parents should consider not only a child's age, but his or her maturity level as well.

Here are some safe toy-buying guidelines to follow:

*For children younger than 7 years of age, I always say to add a year to be on the safe side. In some cases, even an additional year may not be enough of a precaution.

*If your child is developmentally delayed, realize that he/she may not be ready for a particular toy. Also, siblings' toys should not always be accessible to the child who is developmentally delayed and very much at risk.

*A toy is not the right choice if it is smaller than your child's fist. If there is a moveable or loose part that is smaller than your child's fist - even if the toy is larger, a child should not play with it.

*Toys that are suitable for children over the age of 3 are not suitable for infants and toddlers. Many of these toys have small parts, which can pose choking hazards to little ones. Additionally, toys with cords and strings longer than 12 inches are strangulation hazards for children under age 3.

*Toys with sharp edges or toys that run on electricity shouldn't be given to children under 8 years of age.

*When purchasing toys for an older child, think about the younger children in the house. Could this toy pose a hazard for the 1-year-old who is still crawling? Older children should not be denied toys for their age groups - they just need to be encouraged to keep their toys out of the hands of younger siblings.

When shopping for toys, also examine the quality. Make sure toys meet the toy safety standards from the CPSC and don't have any broken parts. Consider the size of the toy. If a toy is too heavy, a child definitely could get hurt if it fell on him or her. Read content labels carefully to make sure the toy does not contain lead or paint, which can be toxic. And finally, if your child will be receiving a bike or roller blades this year, don't forget the safety equipment: helmet, knee pads and wrist guards.

Dr. Paul Sirbaugh is the director of pre-hospital medicine at Texas Children's Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. For more information on Texas Children's Emergency Center, visit www.texaschildrenshospital.org. The nonprofit Texas Children's Hospital, celebrating 50 years, is the largest children's hospital in the United States.

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