Choosing and using toys wisely is an essential part of helping your child get the most out of toys and play. Making sure that the toys you buy conform to safety standards and will not present a risk to your child is not difficult. Most toys on the British market today are carefully made and safe to play with. There are a number of organisations working to make sure safety standards are maintained, from the European commission and British government to trading standards officers, safety experts and the manufacturers themselves.

Choosing a safe toy

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If you want to buy a safe toy you should always go to a reputable shop, ideally one this is a member of the British association of toy retailers. You are more likely to get useful help and advice if you go to a specialist toy shop, the toy department of large store or the toy selection of a major chain. Mail order catalogue's are also available which gives a useful reference.

When you buy a toy you should check the packaging for three specific things, they are:

THE LION MARK- the lion mark is a symbol of safety and quality. Toys using the lion mark have been made with the highest standards currently in force in the British and European community. The symbol is also used by approved lion mark retailer shops to indicate that all toys sold there have the lion mark.

SMALL PARTS- little children can easily choke on small objects. The under threes are at risk because they put every thing into their mouths to explore the shape and texture. It is impossible to watch your child all the time. Even if you think your child understands your warnings, a small toy can prove tempting and they are very forgetful when they are younger, so they may forget your warnings. A safety message such as "not suitable for children under 36months as this product contains small objects", therefore it must be taken literally.

AGE ADVICE- messages such as "recommended for children aged 3-5" or "play age 5-7" are discretionary guidelines. Age guidelines can help you decide if the toy will be fun for your child to play with and if it will prove stimulating.

Check the toy

Ask to see the toy outside the box and check that it's sturdy and well made. Its very important to look over toys for babies and toddlers to make sure that there are no small pieces that come loose or seems that come apart. Also, if a toy is not strong enough to withstand play it will be a disappointment to an older child. Remember the packaging is not normally part of the toy and should be disposed of safety before the toy is given to the child.

Choose the right toy for the right child

Often a toy is well designed and safe but causes problems when it gets into the wrong hands. A building brick that is safe, interesting and educational to an older child can be lethal if a toddler chokes on it. Likewise, a toddler who can only just sit up would not cope with a trundle truck and would keep falling off. Think about children and what they can manage before you buy them a toy.

 

All the family can get hurt if they fall over toys on the floor, or, even worse, the stairs. It's impossible to be absolutely tidy with children about, but try to tech them to tidy up after playing with their toys. If appropriate, keep one room or area for most play activities. A toy box, and old laundry basket, large supermarket trolley bag or cardboard box can help you create a safe environment.

Check the toys

Go through your toy box regularly and clear out any broken or damaged toys. Throw them away (even if you have to wait till the children are asleep). Don't hand them to jumble sales or charity shops, as you may just be handing on an accident to someone else's child.

Don't get in a big mix up

Keep toys that are meant for older children apart from toys meant for younger ones. I have already explained how dangerous it is to buy a toy that is inappropriate for your child's age and ability. Their big sister or brothers toy can be just as unsuitable and unsafe. Help older children to find places they can make models or do chemistry experiments without little ones getting in their way.

Special tips for special toys

Cot toys

Once they can get on their hands and knees, babies can strangle on cot toys by falling with their neck across them. Take string toys out of cots in plenty of time for safety - when your baby is about five months. Take out activity centers as soon as you baby can pull to stand to remove the risk of your baby climbing out.

Noisy toys and cap guns

Some toys can make loud noises. Bangs or single loud tones can sometimes damage hearing. Never allow children to hold noisy toys close to their ears or to fire cap guns next to someone's head.

Battery toys

When you change batteries, change them all at once. New batteries can make old batteries get dangerously hot if they are mixed together! If toys are not played with for longer than a wee, take out the batteries to avoid damage of corrosion. Always follow the manufacturer recommendations and instructions.

Garden toys

Fix garden toys over grass or soil, not on concrete patios. Make sure that there is plenty of room to walk round swings, as being hit by a swing seat can cause a fatal injury. Empty paddling pools after use and store them deflated upside down; children can easily drown even in the rainwater that collects after it has rained.

Choosing safe toys and making sure that they are always used in a safe environment will increase the pleasure of playing for you and your children!

Toy trends

Many parents worry about the degree of importance that children attach to something that may only be in fashion for a few months.

Trends and fashions in youth culture are not a new phenomenon. The attachment by the young to a certain style of music or dress is often what defines that generation.

The difference today is that the increase in the availability of consumer goods and the widespread use of media to promote these goods has made us so far more aware of these fads. The pressure to adopt a certain lifestyle or possess a specific product starts at a younger age than ever before.

The urge to be liked, to belong to a desirable group of age-mates, is present in most of us whatever our age but its particularly strong in the young who are, as yet, too inexperienced to strike out on their own, be judged on their own accomplishments and risk alienation from the crowd. They seek 'safe' ways of being accepted. Imitation popular kids their dress, playthings, musical tastes, etc. Is one way to belong.

Many people believe that advertisement is the root of all fads but this has not been proved to be the case. The popularity of POG's, tamagotchies, cabbage patch dolls and pok�mon, for example, was established long before any promotional advertising appeared for these products. Advertisers may later capitalise on youth fads but they are not necessarily responsible for creating them.

Youths create these fads amongst themselves. Children look up to older and more popular children of the same sex. They search for clues on how to be liked, or at least accepted. If a popular boy or girl wears a particular brand of clothing, sports a particular hairstyle, or plays a certain game or toy, this can be the start of a local, sometimes a national, fad.

Peer pressure is an extremely strong force, which begins once a child starts to mix with other children. The more time youngsters spend away from home and are with other children, the more they experience peer pressure.