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LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 06: Go Jetters toys are displayed as Hamley's announce it's top ten toys for Christmas at Hamleys on October 6, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

– By Lora Lewis 

We’ve all been there, standing in a toy store facing an incredible array of puzzles, robotics and science kits. Maybe you’re in a hurry on your way to a party or desperate for a gift in a faraway airport. You spot it – the perfect choice! Then you see it – the small letters that say ‘Ages 5 and Up’

Your child is 4.

Walk away. Younger kids lack fine motor skills and that can lead to frustration and tears and rules and strategy may be concepts beyond their current attention span. And small parts? That can be a big problem: children under the age of three are still putting things into their mouths. Small batteries can look like chocolate chips and puzzle pieces like candy.

“Parents always think ‘My kid is smart – she can handle it,’” says Maryanne McGerty-Sieber, a Product Safety Investigator for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. “When you’re buying toys for your children, your grandchildren, nieces or nephews or family friends, be a label reader. Look at the information that’s on the product packaging and buy for the appropriate age. And for those families that have kids with multiple ages, there are small parts warning labels on toys for ages 3-5 that lets the parent know that this toy contains small parts.”

“Small parts” is one of the biggest concerns for the CPSC in children’s products. Assembly parts, pieces that detach or break off, removable batteries or accessories can be dangerous if swallowed. Sometimes the problem is not obvious: an innocent-looking plush toy could lose its nose after a lot of wear and tear.

Families with multiple age children have to be especially careful. “My girls are two and a half years apart,”  McGerty-Sieber says. “My younger daughter always thought she was the same age as her older sister!” Because you can’t watch them every second, so separating toys and not putting them in a community toy box are good ideas.

Sports equipment like bikes and scooters are another example of gifts where you need to pay attention to the item’s recommended age. Buying a bike that your children can “grow into” may be too large for them to ride safely. That’s also true of scooters and hoverboards. If you do get those type of gifts for your kids — if they are age-appropriate — don’t forget to also purchase the recommended safety gear. including helmets, elbow pads and knee pads.

What about second hand items? Garage sales and thrift stores offer attractive prices for everything from bikes, toys and other children’s products. But there are some items that shouldn’t be bought second-hand, such as bike helmets and infant/car seats. They could have been involved in an accident and have internal damage that affects their integrity.

The CPSC has other recommendations to help keep your kids – and you – safe. Information about product recalls, seasonal safety tips and guidelines are part of their website offerings. Check it out at their website or give them a call at their toll-free Hotline – 1-800-638-2772.

Remember, before you buy or accept any second-hand item always check to see if there has been a product recall on the CPSC website. The agency has listed every recall they have ever done since its creation in the ‘70s. “One cautionary thought to keep in mind, before you make any purchase, always make sure there’s some type of identification,” McGerty-Sieber says. “A manufacturer, a model number, a serial number, that’s the basic information you need to find out if it’s safe. If you don’t see anything at all – walk away.”