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Toy Safety Patrol

Check out this guide to picking out toys that are tip-top for safety

Toys bring joy. But while tiny tots' eyes are all aglow, many a parent's brow is furrowed. Will that shiny new thing fall victim to yet another recall? It's close to impossible to predict where the next batch of potentially-hazardous playthings will crop up – but there are five easy ways you can ensure basic safety, says Malcolm Denniss, one of the industry's leading safety experts.

Known as "Mr. Toy Safety," he previously spent 26 years working in quality assurance for Hasbro – and now works for a leading global firm that tests, certifies and inspects toys. Read on for his top tips to safer playing.

1. Be mindful of age. The most important aspect of buying gifts for children is to make sure the toy or game is age-appropriate. Nearly every toy or game will list a recommended age on the box. The guidelines were developed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Toy Industry Association, and take into account the typical ability of children to handle certain toys. Buying toys for kids that are younger than the indicated age – even though we think a child may grow into it or is capable – may lead to inappropriate play patterns and hazards that a child is not yet prepared for.

2. Check for damage. Children are naturally excited to play with new toys at holiday times – often in a robust (and even overly enthusiastic) manner. It's important that parents periodically check their kids' toys for any damage or breakage, which could create sharp edges or a choking hazard. If a toy looks damaged, take it away! If necessary, contact the manufacturer to verify that it is still safe to play with.

3. Look at the recalls. While toy shopping during the holidays, check recall notices at the toy or department store to verify that none of child's existing toys have been recalled and are still in your child's room or toy box. Or, simply log on to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s site.

4. Get parents' input. If you're buying toys for nephews, nieces or other children that you may not see on a regular basis, it's always a good idea to check with the parents. See what they think is appropriate for the child – particularly for very young kids, where maturity can vary significantly. Be especially careful when buying for children under age 3. They still put toys in their mouths, so check the front of the toy package to see if it has small parts before buying.

5. Give rules inside-out. Remind kids about outdoor and indoor play safety. It's important to teach them to not play ball games near roadways – and to always look where they're running if the ball goes outside the play area. Never permit play near roads and areas where automobiles are driving. Inside, don't allow kids to play with flying toys that can knock over fragile decorations – and hit bystanders, too.

Bonus! Learn more at these leading toy-safety Web sites:

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