Safety is paramount when you're selecting gifts for kids
Consider practical presents and others to stimulate thought, imagination

By Karen Pilarski - Special to The Freeman

Dec. 18, 2014

When you're gift-shopping for your kids this holiday season, consider games and puzzles to challenge their brainpower and help them learn new information.   
Submitted photo

MEQUON - The holiday season is in full swing at stores and malls all across the area. Masses of shoppers sift through racks and shelves looking for the perfect gift.

While it makes a child happy to find a favorite toy under the decorated tree, parents need to think of safety first.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 251,700 toy-related injuries in 2010 throughout the United States. 72 percent were to people less than 15 years of age. Additionally, in 2007 alone, toymakers recalled over 19 million toys worldwide because of safety concerns such as lead paint and small magnets.

Common toy injuries come from toys that shoot out objects like dart guns and strike kids in the face or eyes. A big concern is choking hazards, such as toys with parts that break off.

Prevention, expectation and supervision go hand in hand to keep children safe.

“The biggest thing is to examine toys, look for broken pieces and condition of it. Make sure older kids understand expectations of using a toy dart gun. In terms of choking hazards, a lot of younger siblings often will get into older siblings’ toys such as Barbie accessories or Legos and put the items in their mouths,” said Dr. Cindy Running, pediatrician from North Shore Pediatrics with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Running said a quick and easy way to test a toy is by using a cardboard paper towel tube. If a toy can fit all the way through the tube, then a kid under three shouldn’t play with it, she said.

Dr. Gerhard Sawall,  pediatrician from ProHealth Care, said:  “Don’t let older kids leave their toys lying around where younger kids can get into them. Injuries increase often when a new toy is introduced into the family.”


Supervision is vital

With all the warnings and recall notices, how are there still injuries?

“Injuries happen when parents are not home. A child could go to an aunt or grandparent for a visit and the house may not be childproof. Also, there could be multiple children of different ages visiting at the same time,” said Sawall.

Children see their older brother or sister with a toy and want to emulate them by playing with it, Running said.

“Many injuries happen from improper use and children not being properly supervised,” she said. “Kids interact with toys not meant for them.” 

She recommends that a household with a different age range of kids have rules set in place.

 “Big-kid toys should stay in the big-kid rooms,” she said. “Have a playroom or general family area designated for toys everyone could play with.  Older kids should play on a table with toys while little kids play on  the floor.”

“Make sure the gift is the appropriate age and stage of development for a child,” said Sawall.

Both pediatricians urge parents to check toys every time after their kids have played with them.  Any injuries should be evaluated by a physician.

When you're gift-shopping for your kids this holiday season, consider games and puzzles to challenge their brainpower and help them learn new information.   
Submitted photo

Useful safety tips for shoppers

Often gifts are bought by well-intentioned relatives and friends.  Shoppers should not be persuaded to buy items highly promoted on TV.

Todd Merryfield, co-owner of the Learning Shop in Brookfield, said:  “Shoppers are prepared with good questions when looking for a gift.  Customers often ask if an item is age/gender appropriate.”

A good rule of thumb is to do research on a product before purchasing it.

Shoppers should read where the toy was made and the materials used in creating it. For instance, a wooden item might contain lead paint, which can be harmful.

Both Sawall and Running suggest shoppers avoid loud toys that could endanger kids’ hearing.

Stuffed animals need to be checked out to see if they are well made, meaning no loose seams where stuffing can come out, eyeballs that could pop off and strings that could strangle.

Sawall further recommends that shoppers look at labels to determine if the  items are non-toxic. For electronics, check to see if it is United Laboratory approved. Consumers can check out the Consumer Product Safety Commission website for recall information.

The age ranges on labels are there for a reason.  If the label says for kids 12 and over, it means there are parts that are not meant for someone under that age.

Merryfield said, “Our staff stays pretty true to following the age guidelines on the packaging of our products as these are typically established to avoid hazards like choking or other injuries that inappropriate use could incur. 

“The age guidelines are also quite helpful in determining the difficulty of using the product so that the customer can be better assured that the child will be able to use the toy with minimal difficulty.”

Retail stores have operation plans in place to communicate recalls. Merryfield said recalls from manufacturers are clearly posted to inform customers, even if they didn’t purchase the item from the Learning Shop. “Nobody wants a hazardous product in the hands of any child,”  he said.


Refunds, exchanges

Each business owner chooses his or her own way to deal with refunds and exchanges. Merryfield’s philosophy is it is not the customers’ fault if a product has a manufacturer’s defect.

“We don’t want a customer stuck with something that doesn’t work right out of the package,” he said. “We want the children to be able to enjoy the product.”

Retailers need to know if there is an issue with a product to determine whether they should continue offering it.   “We can’t possibly know unless we are made aware and returns are a pretty dramatic indicator,” said Merryfield. Shoppers should keep all receipts and get gift receipts as a precaution.


Options, recommendations

There are, of course, many gift options for kids besides toys.

“Buy kids mittens, scarves, any educational items,” said Running. “I’m a huge fan of books. Make the gift personal; there are books you can have a grandparent read and voice record it. When the child reads the book he or she can hear the grandparent read the book to them.”

Other ideas include accessories for bigger gifts, such as helmets and knee pads if the child is receiving a bike. Running said many summer injuries are from Christmas gifts that were not tried out before they were given.

Sawall recommends anything that invokes imagination and socialization. “Older children could benefit from interactive games where they have to use their minds to come up with something,” he said.  “Items that involve activities that involve creation and sequence are wonderful.  Increase the interaction between children and teens.”

He said toys are often designed for solitary play, which could lead to communication issues.  Educational games, on the other hand, are useful  to prepare children for real-life communication.

“Many of our games have multiple ways to play in order to adapt to different ages playing at the same time, plus it adds longevity to the interest in playing the game if it can be changed,” said Merryfield.

Christmas is the season for giving but shoppers need to take heart. It isn’t how fancy or spectacular the gift is that matters. It truly is the thought behind it that counts.