If you don't have any kids, buying for your baby niece or your best friend's toddler is daunting. Developmental issues and interests aside, you may be scared of giving a toy he'll choke on. Just how do you select a great Christmas gift that won't require a trip to the ER?
1. Check the CPSC for any product recalls.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is the watchdog organization for hazardous and potentially dangerous toys on the market. All recalls for merchandise on the shelves are listed at www.cpsc.gov so when in doubt, check it out. The CPSC has super (and some might say overly) strict requirements, but it's always better to play it safe.
2. Follow the age recommendations.
Look on the front of the package. There should be an age recommendation for each toy. It's fine to buy a little bit above the age of the child, as long as they are ready for it. Maturity plays a far larger part in finding good toys than the advertised age. Keep in mind that if the toy says 3+ it probably has small parts and wouldn't be a good option for younger kids.
3. Avoid magnets.
There's a lot of buzz surrounding swallowing magnets and the surgery needed if the squirt swallows two and they stick together. You can find totally safe, gigantic magnets for Junior to play with while you babysit the spaghetti sauce, but don't buy anything that you yourself can swallow.
4. Kids under three will put everything in the mouth.
That stick-everything-in-the-mouth fixation never seems to end. Assume that any child under three will baptize it will saliva. Any small parts are a huge choking hazard.
5. Steer clear of loud toys.
Depending on how much you like the kid's parents, a noisy toy can be divine revenge. But test it out in the store first. Some of them are amazingly shrill and far too loud for developing ears. Sound levels as low as 90-120 decibels can damage a child's ear according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Many toys have a low and high setting, so check both.
6. Don't buy dollar store toys.
Most of the junk sold at low-end dollar stores comes from countries with few regulations. Why take the chance with a kid's safety? Those cheaply made toys won't last long anyway.
7. Play with your child and the toy several times first.
Most of the violent toy episodes splashed on the news are due to lack of parental supervision. After buying that special gadget for your terrific tyke, you are responsible for her safety. This means making sure she knows how to play with it and put it away before starting with something else. Check all parts regularly for broken pieces and loose screws. Toys are put through a rigorous (and expensive) testing process, but no designer is perfect.
Take precautions into account but don't go overboard. The last thing your child needs is a phobia about toys or helicopter parents that gasp at every loud noise. Kids need space to be kids. Stay informed with the CPSC and register all your gear for recall updates.