a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA)

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Week: 605.6b

Guest: Heather Paul, National Safe Kids Campaign, Washington, D.C.

Topic: Choosing safe toys

Host/Producer: Steve Girard

NEMA: You’ve been buying toys this holiday season...it’s tough sometimes to find the right gift for kids. For those of you who haven’t gotten gifts for everyone yet...maybe you hit those big ‘After Christmas’ sales, hoping to gobble up future gifts...here are some tips on how to match up the gift and the recipient. Heather Paul of the National Safe Kids Campaign joins us....

PAUL: The first thing to know, of course, is who you’re buying for. And perhaps their taste...but most importantly, knowing there are good, constructive, fun toys that are special to kids of certain ages. So, start with the age of the child you’re going to buy for, and then buy age appropriate toys. The first thing to look for, of course, is that very important warning label. There are certain toys that are not recommend for children three and under, and the label is very clear that the reason why it’s not recommended for small kids is because there are chokable parts inside. That’s the most important thing to remember, because of the over 100 thousand toy related injuries that end up in the emergency room, many of them are choking related...and it’s because of small parts. So, that’s the number one issue for parents and care givers.

NEMA: Let’s talk about the kinds of toys or gifts appropriate in the different age groups. What about under one?

PAUL: In that first year of life, of course, children are ready to explore with their hands and mouths, and it’s so important that the toys be kind of soft, and don’t have any removable parts, for instance any ribbons that can come off...or little glass beads for eyes that can be pulled off and swallowed. That’s most important...for instance, crib gyms are great...floor activity centers, soft dolls and stuffed animals, squeaky toys and activity quilts. They usually always work.

NEMA: What changes for the one to three year old?

PAUL: Between the ages of one to three..kids are starting to climb, jump and walk...throw and play a little more rough and tumble games. So, soft blocks are very interesting and constructive and good developmentally. Large balls, push and pull toys...and make sure that any string on any push or pull toy is longer than 12 inches...or at least that length. And anything that sort of pounding and shaping toys are great, and of course, never dismiss the power of a good book. I would always put that at the top of anyone’s list...there are so many wonderful books that are perfect for children in this age group. Usually, they have the heavier page, they’re cardboard, they have rounded edges, simpler form, simpler stories, and they’re terrific.

NEMA: A book is a gift that doesn’t need batteries, and isn’t broken a short time down the road...

PAUL: And it’s nice to inscribe it. When children get older, they really do remember who gave them things at what point in time, and just to say, "From Aunt Harriet, Christmas ‘97"....is just a neat thing to do.

NEMA: Now we’re buying for a youngster 3 to about kindergarten age....

PAUL: In the years of three to five, kids are starting to experiment with their imaginations...much more extensively, and toys become close companions. And so that’s the time when art supplies become important...that test the imagination, and pretend toys: play money, telephones...any kind of toy that allows a child to build a world. Teddy bears and dolls, outdoor toys such as the tricycle get important. And of course, this is the time when we put that first helmet on any child. Even though a tricycle seems pretty close to the ground, and kids aren’t moving fast on them, it’s just as important to make sure that kids are conditioned to wearing helmets for sports, really for the rest of their lives.

NEMA: I’ve got two in the next age group...five to 9 year old...and they are really, really active...

PAUL: Well, from 5 to 9, they are getting challenged by much more complex games...and of course, computer games for children of this age are getting more and more popular. Arts and crafts, again, kind of extending that idea of the imaginary life. Favorites items that can go with sports that they’re starting to play. And then the last age group for us is 9 to 14, and they’re getting much more opinionated and independent. So, it’s also the point at which older kids are developing life-long skills and hobbies...so more hand held games, and board games and lots of sports equipment, and perhaps even musical instruments and model kits.

NEMA: After the kids get the gifts, it’s a pretty good idea to monitor their use....especially at the start...

PAUL: Supervision is number one. For the most part, the millions and millions of toys that are produced in the U.S. or for the U.S. consumer base every year are very, very safe. The standards of the toy industry are very high, and toy related injuries in the emergency room usually mean there hasn’t been enough supervision and that toys have been misused, so most important...especially for small children, that there be older siblings around who are responsible, and adults as well.

NEMA: How about getting kids to pick up and put things away...?

PAUL: That’s very important. Each child should really, ideally, have their own storage area, especially if you have a small child who should not be near small parts, and older children with games, and all kinds of things that might have anything that can choke a small child. So, create a little storage area and to have toy chests for each child makes a lot of sense. And that whole conditioning thing...picking up after yourself and knowing that these are the things you’re responsible for picking up.

NEMA: Parents have to be aware of the condition of new and old toys....

PAUL: Toys that might be absolutely perfect when they’re bought at the holiday season don’t fare so well a year later or two. So, check for things that are broken, and parts that have come off...and anything that might be subject to hurting someone. So check for any damage on toys, on a regular basis as a parent.

NEMA: And a good way to get kids into the habit of picking up...and getting a good look at the toys that may be broken is actually getting down and playing with them whenever you can...

PAUL: From time to time, there are these kind of hokey promotions that say, "Spend 20 minutes with your child"! And while it’s always difficult to mandate any amount of time that ‘s ideal....but for heaven’s sake...common sense would dictate that it’s really important to interact with children, and literally get down on the ground...and find that it’s a lot of fun to read together, or play a simple game together, and those are probably the best memories that most children have with their parents, and vice versa.

NEMA: Heather Paul of the National Safe Kids Campaign...who wishes everyone a safe and happy holiday season.

SPOT: 15 years in the prevention of heart disease, stroke and trauma - The National Emergency Medicine Association. This show is just part of what NEMA does. We send out millions of pieces of prevention information to people around the country, give grants to organizations in research, public information and emergency services, and have been instrumental in the creation and expansion of the Chest Pain Emergency Room movement. To play a role, call 800-332-6362.

NEMA: Thanks for joining us for today’s program. If you have any comments or suggestions, contact this station. Or visit our home page at:


...for a look at transcripts of this or past programs, or to find out more about the National Emergency Medicine Association. I’m Steve Girard at The Heart of the Matter.



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