Each year more than 120,000 children-most of them under 4-are injured by toys. Here's how to make sure your child's playthings stay the stuff of fun and games
READ THE LABEL! Many toy-related injuries occur when parents think that their child is smart enough to play with something that's meant for an older child. Age recommendations on toy boxes refer to safety-not level of intelligence-so follow the recommended guidelines.
Check labels on stuffed animals and other plush toys to make sure they're nonflammable and safe for infants. Never put soft toys in a crib; they're a suffocation hazard.
Make sure toys, rattles, and teething rings are round and smooth and can't fit completely in a baby's mouth-they should be at least 1 3/4 inches across.
Check for small, detachable parts, including glued-on features that may come off. Tug on any buttons, beads, and bows to make sure they're secure; reinforce loose ones with extra stitching.
Hang crib toys, such as mobiles and gyms, out of reach. Remove them once your baby can push himself up on his hands and knees (usually at around 4 or 5 months).
Be sure cords, ribbons, and strings attached to mobiles and toys are less than 6 inches long to avoid strangulation.
Choose lightweight toys that can be safely banged around, and avoid any with sharp or pointed edges. Check them periodically for loose or broken parts, such as knobs or wheels, that could pose a choking hazard.
Make sure balls and other playthings are at least 1 3/4 inches across.
Avoid sponge toys; a teething baby could easily gnaw off pieces and choke.
Take care with toys that have moving parts, springs, gears, or hinges; they could trap a child's fingers or clothing.
Don't let children on riding toys anywhere near stairs, driveways, or swimming pools.
Buy crayons, paint, markers, and other art supplies that are nontoxic and made specifically for children.
Pass up very noisy toys-such as those with sirens, drums, or bells-that could damage your toddler's hearing. If you have to raise your voice to be heard over a toy, it's too loud.
If your child still mouths his playthings, stay vigilant for toys with small, detachable parts.
Teach your child to wear a helmet when riding a tricycle.
Stringing beads should be large-to prevent choking-and made of wood or plastic.
Be careful with balloons; if they pop, the rubber fragments will be choking hazards. (Mylar balloons are safer because they don't usually break into pieces when they burst.)
With bikes, in-line skates, and scooters, insist on protective gear including a helmet and pads.
Avoid darts, bows and arrows, slingshots, or guns that fire anything but water. If you give a toy gun, teach your child not to aim it at people or at pets.
Check the directions for hobby kits: some contain toxic materials that require adult supervision.
Don't let children under 8 operate electric toys and trains by themselves, to prevent bums and shocks. Kids over 3 should play with battery-operated toys instead.
Anything that can fit through the tube of a toilet paper roll is too small for a child under 3. AFTER THE OPENING Once presents are opened and toys and wrapping paper are strewn around, watch out for the following:
Plastic bags and bubble wrap, which are suffocation hazards.
Foam peanuts, which could get caught in a child's throat.
Cardboard boxes-if your child likes to climb inside them, be sure to remove any metal staples and reseal sides with tape before handing them over.
LOOK FOR WOOD OR PLASTIC rather than metal equipment (which can get too hot), and check the manufacturer's recommendations for age and weight. Home trampolines, trapeze bars, and rope rings are too dangerous for children under 6.
Make sure steps and guardrails are apart by less than 3 inches or more than 9 inches so a child's head can't get trapped between them.
Surround swing sets, slides, and monkey bars with soft wood chips, sand, pea gravel, or shredded mulch-about 9 inches deep and 6 feet around-to soften a child's fall. Remove roots and rocks from the area.
Check "S" hooks on swing sets that have chains; make sure they're tightly closed so they can't catch on a child's clothing.
Inspect equipment regularly for rust or rot, and check that bolts, screws, and nails are intact.
HAND-ME-DOWNS: Being a much-loved toy usually means getting thrown around, dragged about, and kicked. Check for signs of wear and tear before passing down playthings to younger children.
SECONDHAND TOYS: Beware of online auctions, as well as flea markets and thrift shops, that may sell items that have been recalled. Before buying used toys, check them for damage. To track recalls or report an unsafe toy, call the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 800-638-2772 or go to www.cpsc.gov
TOYS FROM ABROAD: Some fail to meet U.S. safety standards; imported wooden blocks, for example, may be coated with lead paint. Also check labels to make sure toys are age appropriate. (A missing label should be a red flag that a toy may not be up to standards.)
Store toys on low shelves or in baskets. If you use a toy box, make sure it has a hinged lid that stays in place when opened or a lightweight removable top, as welt as ventilation holes or an opening between the cover and the sides.