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Tips can help prevent toy injuries this holiday season

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With the holiday season upon us, many of us are shopping for presents for children.

For many children, getting new toys is one of the most anticipated events of the season. Choosing the right toy to purchase is very important in light of the toy-related injuries happening to children.  Even though there is good news for parents this holiday season because fewer children died in toy-related incidents last year, 12 deaths of children under 15 in 2009, following 24 deaths each in 2007 and 2008.  (These reported fatalities are associated with toys, but not necessarily caused by them.) Still there are too many toy-related deaths.

Also helping parents and others buying toys is the fact that toys are getting safer. The number of toy recalls is on the decline, with 44 in fiscal 2010, down from 50 in 2009 and 172 in 2008, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Still, there were more toy-related “emergency room visits” according to the CPSC. Even though in 96 percent of the cases victims were treated and released these numbers are entirely too high. 

Here are some safety tips to follow when purchasing and giving a child a gift to ensure everyone has a safe, happy holiday season.

Purchase age-appropriate toys for your children. Toys that are acceptable for older children could be hazardous to younger ones. If you have children of different ages, keep younger children away from toys for older children that could potentially harm them.  These include toys with very small parts or small balls that a young child could swallow or could block a child’s airway. And, when shopping, do not purchase toys of this type for younger children under 4 years old. Children under 6 years old should not have toys that contain magnets.  These can cause serious injuries or even death if swallowed.  Balloons that are broken, underinflated or not inflated can also be a choking hazard for children younger than 8 years old.

Riding toys, such as skateboards, in-line skates, bicycles and scooters may be at the top of many children’s wish list, but these can be dangerous if they are incorrectly used or proper equipment is not worn. Riding toys including tricycles were associated with more than half the fatal accidents, often by drowning when the toy goes into a pool or ditch. Scooters were associated with 49,500, or 27 percent, of ER-treated, toy-related injuries last year. That’s up from 42,900 scooter-related injuries in 2008. Buy proper safety equipment for children to wear when playing with these types of toys, and closely watch them as they try out a new toy. Teach and show your child the proper way to use new riding toys and equipment.

Many toys will require batteries, but chargers and adapters can pose thermal burn hazards to children. Adults should pay attention to instructions and warning labels.  Some battery charges may lack any device to prevent overcharging. Adults should supervise charges and adapters to ensure they are working properly.

After the gifts are opened, immediately discard plastic wrappings on toys before they become dangerous play things.  They can cause choking hazards or suffocation for young children.  Remember even though a toy is only a toy, if not played with in the way it was designed to be played with can become dangerous. Playing with your children and their toys can help children enjoy their toys more, you bond with your children and help them learn safe ways to play with each toy. I wish to credit Carole Gnatuk, our University of Kentucky Child Development Specialist, the Consumer Products Safety Commission and the Kentucky Injury Prevention Center for information I shared in today’s column. 

Happy holiday preparations this coming week.

Grace Angotti is Carroll Co. Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. Call her at (502) 732-7030 or send e-mail to gangotti@uky.edu.