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Playing It Safe

Toys are designed to delight, but some can pose hidden dangers. In fact, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) latest figures, over 140,000 toy-related injuries were treated in emergency rooms in 1996 alone. To help protect your child:

Be Sure A Toy Is Age-Appropriate

Heed the recommended age range and look for safety warnings on the package (such as parts that are a choking hazard for kids under 3). "There's a natural tendency to think your child is advanced for his age and buy toys meant for older children," says Susanne Ogaitis of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. "But kids just do certain things at certain ages, like put small objects in their mouth."

Examine Toys

Be sure new toys are in sealed packages; an opened one can mean a toy was mishandled. Once you get an item home, check carefully for potential hazards. Loose or small bolts, wheels, buttons, and other decorations that are easily detached can find their way into a child's mouth. (Anything that can pass through the tube of a toilet paper roll is too small for a child under 3.) Also check for cracks or broken parts with sharp edges as well as moving parts that can pinch small fingers. Trim strings over 12 inches long (they're a strangulation hazard), discard packaging (which can pose choking and suffocation risks), and read instructions thoroughly before giving a toy to an infant or toddler. When buying an electric toy, look for a stamp (such as UL or ASTM approved) indicating it has been tested for safety.

Establish Rules Of Play

Supervise younger kids during playtime; teach older children to read instructions and use playthings properly. With toys such as bikes and in-line skates, insist on protective gear like helmets and pads. After play, teach your child to put toys away. "A lot of the injuries we see come from falling over a plaything that was left out," says Ogaitis. Also, keep toys that aren't meant for younger siblings on a high shelf or in a closed or locked cabinet.

Don't Ignore Recalls

If a toy is deemed unsafe by the company or the CPSC, call the CPSC's hotline to find out where to return the item or have it repaired. National recalls are usually featured on television or in the newspaper, but if you miss part of a report or want to check on a particular toy, go to www.cpsc.gov.

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