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Playing it safe: guidelines for selecting children's toys

Playing with toys may on the surface seem to be all fun and games, but the job of selecting toys that are safe is serious business indeed. Quality toy companies consider it their primary responsibility to construct toys that are safe as well as functional and durable. Parents, however, have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that their child plays safely.

An important part of the parents' responsibility, toy manufacturer Fisher-Price advises, is picking toys that are compatible with a baby's ability and play needs. To help ensure nursery safety, the company offers these tips:

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* Suit the toy to the child's current stage of development, recognizing that children's toy needs change frequently. Watch for age groupings - these are carefully studied decisions by the reputable manufacturers. If a child receives a gift wrong for his or her age, put it away for later. A mother should not expect a child to grow into a toy as she might with an article of clothing. Some things to consider when shopping: a toy's weight and size, the swallowability of small parts, and the length of any pull strings.

* Consider how the toy might be misused at the child's stage of development. The most sensitive age distinction is before and after a child learns to walk, or about 1 to 11/2 years old. Play with your child and watch how he handles toys.

* Watch for thin walls, sharp points, flimsy construction, pinch points, and unprotected edges. Periodically, check on cleanliness of toys.

* For small children, avoid all types of projectiles, such as darts and rubber bands.

* Where toys have protruding objects, be alert to possible entanglement. Avoid loose clothing on the child or long strings and cords around the neck.

* Watch for loose objects small enough to be swallowed, or those that could break off or be removed easily, such as wheels.

* Don't shop solely on the basis of price - in other words, don't economize at the possible expense of a child's safety. Although some toys periodically are heavily discounted as traffic builders, in general you get what you pay for.

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* Exercise your responsibility for supervision diligently. For example, take into account that your child may become mobile, yet lack the control and reasoning necessary to anticipate and avoid danger. Parents must monitor their baby's skills periodically to be aware of new accomplishments that also present new dangers. For instance, mouthing of objects can be such a risk. While teethers and larger rattles are conducive to mouthing, toys for older children often contain smaller parts that present a potential hazard even if the younger child is otherwise ready to play with such toys.

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