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December 3, 2008 > Gift Shopping for the Kids: Focus on Quality, not Quantity

Gift Shopping for the Kids: Focus on Quality, not Quantity

Pediatrician Discusses Safety Issues Surrounding Toys and Gifts for Youngsters

For a lot of people, the holiday season - with holiday parties, family get-togethers and shopping - represents one of the busiest times of year. If you have small children at home, it's even busier.

Each year, the month of December is recognized as Safe Toys and Gifts Month and a good time to brush up on toy safety tips.

If you're doing any shopping for young children - for holidays, birthdays or other kid-centered events, it is especially important to make sure the gifts you're giving are safe and age-appropriate, says Dr. Marjorie Alpert, a Washington Hospital Medical Staff member and pediatrician with South East Bay Pediatric Medical Group.

Dr. Alpert admits that one of her own pet peeves is when she goes to an event and a well-intentioned guest gives her daughter a toy that is not appropriate for her age group.

"When shopping for toys, especially for group gatherings, try to look for something appropriate for the age of the child you're buying for and then really stick to that," she says. "With toys, you usually want the kids to be able to play with whatever they're getting at the time. Also take into consideration the age range of all the kids in a family. If you're giving a gift, be aware that a younger child may be tempted to put that same object in his or her mouth."

One of the major hazards to young children is choking. Even soft foods should be monitored carefully, she says. Dr. Alpert points out that she herself has had to use the Heimlich maneuver and recommends that all parents learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the event of an emergency.

The vast majority of choking-related deaths, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, are attributed to children under the age of 4.

"This age group is very inquisitive - and while some may have learned some good habits - every 4-year-old is different," Dr. Alpert says. "They tend to experiment more, and foreign bodies present a choking risk. Ask a 4-year-old why he or she swallowed a coin and they may say, 'Well I didn't think about it.'"

During large family gatherings and gift exchanges, it's ultimately the parents' responsibility to monitor what their child is playing with and whether or not it's age appropriate.

Another major concern when it comes to toys and gifts for young children is items containing lead-based paints.

Alpert's advice? Go for quality, not quantity when it comes to gift shopping for kids.

"You can go to discount retailers, and there's a bunch of great-looking toys being sold cheaply, but you don't know where they're coming from," she warns. "Shop at reputable toy companies. One good gift is probably fine. Just remember, you're not telling your child you love them with presents."

Other things, like toy guns, she says, present a judgment call for parents in what kind of message they're sending to their children.

If you're the one hosting the gathering where young children will be present, Dr. Alpert advises thinking long and hard about things like goodie bags and whether the contents will be safe for all the children involved. Many party favors tend to have small parts.

A simple alternative to small toys can be something as simple as non-toxic crayons and activity books, she says.

Another good idea when heading out to shop for toys and gifts is to check with consumer reporting agencies' Web sites to make sure there are no toy recalls associated with the items on your list. Just because something is being sold on the shelves doesn't mean it's risk-proof.

Other toys or gifts may just present inherent risk. Big fad items may not be appropriate for all ages. Dr. Alpert cites the example of injuries sustained by children wearing roller shoes marketed by Heelys, Inc., which were the subject of studies published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"Overall, as a parent, you want to stick with age appropriate gifts and be aware of recalls," Dr. Alpert says. "You also have to be there when your kids are opening gifts to make that judgment call as to whether the item is appropriate for your child."

To find a local pediatrician, visit and click on "Find a Physician." If you would like to learn more about services and programs available at Washington Hospital, go to the Home page and click on "Services & Programs."

To see health-related programming 24-hours a day, tune into InHealth, a Washington Hospital channel, on Comcast Cable channel 78.

Infant-Child CPR Class

Washington Hospital offers an American Heart Association course focusing on instructing adults on how to relieve choking and how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on infants and young children. The next sessions will be held Thursday, Dec. 18, and Saturday, Dec. 20.

For more information call Washington Hospital's Childbirth and Family Services at (510) 791-3423.

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