Are You Buying Safe Toys?

When shopping for children's toys this holiday season, you may have to pay attention to more than just wish lists and price tags. Dangerous levels of lead in paint and toys that contain toxic chemicals have forced Mattel, Fisher-Price, Disney, and other companies to recall some of their most popular children's products.

Follow these seven easy guidelines so you can give gifts that are sure to bring smiles.

  • Search for recalls on toys you've already purchased.
  • Toy companies have already experienced some of the largest recalls ever, including nearly 4.2 million Aqua Dots, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has overseen most of the recalls. The Commission maintains a list of all recalled products on its website. In addition, most companies that have gone through large recalls have set up their sites to explain which products are dangerous and how to get a replacement or have your money refunded.

  • Test for lead yourself.
  • High levels of lead were found in toys that haven't been recalled, including popular Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants toys, reports watchdog group Center for Environmental Health. Test toys at home by picking up a lead testing kit, which most hardware stores sell.

  • Shop for age-appropriate gifts.
  • Not sure which gifts are best for your 3-year-old nephew? Many large retailers, such as Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, and Target, offer online shop by age tools that narrow down the choices for you. And classic toys like blocks, clay, and rubber balls are safe and allow kids to be more creative when they play, say experts.

  • Avoid toys with small parts.
  • Watch out for tiny accessories, jewelry for children, or poorly secured parts, such as eyes and noses, all of which can pose a choking hazard for young children.

  • Throw out gift packaging immediately.
  • Plastic wrapping can suffocate children, and other packing materials may be a choking hazard.

  • Buy safety-oriented gifts.
  • Surprising someone with a bike, scooter, or skateboard? Consider giving bike helmets and knee pads, too. If wrapping up a bike helmet seems boring, jazz it up by using it as a basket to hold other, smaller gifts, suggests the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

  • Pay attention to safety when giving non-toy items.
  • Even playpens and toy chests can pose safety concerns. About 1.5 million playpens were recalled after 15 children were killed when the top rails of their foldable playpens collapsed on them. Toy chests should not latch shut automatically when the lid is closed because a child could get trapped inside.