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Finding Safe Toys

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: The holidays are just around the corner and I'm already feeling overwhelmed about buying toys for everyone. There are so many choices. Any hints for making it a safer, less stressful season?

A: Children of all ages enjoy playing with toys, but they also learn from them. Toys increase their understanding of the world and how it works. Remember trying to fit square pegs into round holes, or forcing puzzle pieces together? When they manipulate objects, children develop physical skills. When children play games together, they improve language and social skills. Playing with toys can help children feel a sense of accomplishment and emotional well-being.

It is truly the "thought that counts" with gift-giving. You don't mention specific age groups that you'll be buying for this holiday season, so I'll share a few basic principles to keep in mind when selecting toys for any child.

Think safety first. In 1995, 150,000 people were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for toy-related injuries, with 21 deaths. Not all toys are for all children.

  • Read labels for age and safety recommendations.
  • Match toys to the child's abilities.
  • Avoid giving toys with small parts to children under three.
  • Avoid toys with cords or strings that may strangle infants or young childen.
  • Keep sharp points and edges away from children under age eight.
  • Be particularly careful about choosing a toy for one child when there are children of a variety of ages in the home.

Keep toys simple. Simple toys stimulate a child's imagination and creative play. The value of a toy is not measured by its price tag.

Consider the child's age and developmental stage. Children will be bored with toys that are too easy for them and frustrated with toys that are too difficult. Exposure to books is also important and should be encouraged. Reading is always fun and appropriate for all ages.

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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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