by Michael Kabel

    As sure as Christmas trees and tinsel, every holiday  season brings a new rush of toys and child gifts to the retail markets, filling up shelves and tempting parents  with any number of ways to entertain children. Some are electrical, some include accessories and features to amaze or entertain the young, and some are merely the "hot" item that season, desired for their popularity as much as for their usefulness or quality. In the glut of products, and in the crunch of time, it's easy to give a gift  that, despite the best of intentions, may harm or even permanently damage a child if misused. 

    When selecting a gift for very small  or even older children, consider some of the following points of safety. 

1.    Is the toy flexible? Gifts for small children learning to walk and maintain their center of gravity should be flexible enough that they don't present a cutting or bruising hazard, should they be under the child when he or she falls. 

2.    Does the toy contain a cord? By voluntary industry regulation, all cords and ropes attached to children's toys should be less than 12" long, to prevent choking or tangling issues. 

3.    Will the toy require protective gear? Gifts for older children, such as in-line skates or skateboards, calls for additional items such as pads, helmets, and maintenance tools. If the child is unlikely to wear or use such items, the gift is probably best left not given. Instead, consider giving the gift of clothing or even personal objects such as diaries, photo albums, or something personalized. 

4.    Is there a choking hazard? Gifts that use balloons, small pieces of cloth, buttons and clasps, or small plastic or metal items present strong choking possibilities. 

5.    Does the toy have detachable parts? In recent years, many toys have come with removable items such as clothing, missiles, guns, and other small plastic objects. These small items, besides presenting a choking hazard, offer children the danger of damaging the eyes. 

6.    Does the gift require electrical power? Gifts such as lamps, electric mobiles, or toys often present not only a fire hazard but also a choking hazard, should the electrical cord becoming unplugged. 

7.    Is the gift unhealthy to eat? Gifts such as candy or chocolates are delicious over the holiday season, but unhealthy in the long run. Also be wary of high sugar, high-additive candy in plastic bags. The bags are also a choking hazard, and the high numbers of chemical additives in the candy upsets the children's diets. 

The above advice is intended as a guideline, not a rule. All children are unique, and for that reason parents should come to their own conclusions about what's best and appropriate for their child. Remember, too, that in the last 30 years toy companies have made broad strides in creating safe, dependable products that children can enjoy for years.