The stockings may be hung by the chimney with care, but are the toys inside really safe for your kids?

In 2008, Congress enacted the federal toy safety standard , which regulates toys designed for children under the age of 14. Yet, according to Safe Kids Worldwide , an estimated 188,400 children were treated in an emergency room for a toy-related injury in 2011 and more than one-third were age 5 and under.

In its annual Trouble in Toyland report, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group is issuing a warning about toys it found that posed potential choking hazards or others that contained toxic materials. Among problems identified by the nonprofit were toys containing chromium, a chemical that can cause cancer, and toys with higher-than-recommended levels of phthalates, a chemical that is linked to early puberty.

The consumer advocacy group urged parents to avoid toys that have small parts, small balls, balloons or magnets which can all pose a choking hazard in younger children. The organization provides a list online of toys it deems dangerous. 

“Accidents are going to happen, but many toy-related injuries can be prevented,” said Dr. Sara Steelman , medical director of the Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital Emergency Department .

Steelman recommended that parents take a moment amid the hustle and bustle of the season to review her five simple safety tips to help keep the holidays injury-free:

1.    Pay attention to age recommendations. Your kids may be anxious to get all their new toys out of the packaging, but Steelman suggests you take a close look at it first. “Age recommendations on toys are extremely important,” Steelman said. “You want to make sure the toys you give your child are age-appropriate for them.” The age ratings are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and take into consideration the size of the toy along with the age groups’ abilities and preferences. Other safety notices, such as whether the item is fire retardant or washable, will also be on the package. “Small batteries and magnets are especially dangerous and, if swallowed, require immediate medical attention and removal,” Steelman noted.

2.    Discard wrapping and packaging. Once you’ve examined the toys’ packaging for safety notices, discard it. “Plastic bags, bits of wire, wrapping paper, packing material and ribbon can all be choking hazards for young kids,” Steelman said. “Cardboard and plastic packaging can have sharp edges that can cause cuts.”

3.    Supervise children during play time. The holidays are busy times for families, but make sure an adult is keeping an eye on the kids while they play. Steelman said some of the most common toy-related injuries she sees are from riding toys like scooters and bicycles.

“I can’t stress supervision enough, especially if your child receives an unfamiliar toy. If it’s a riding toy, make sure your child is wearing a helmet that fits properly.” 

Steelman said in addition to toys, always be aware of holiday décor because there is an opportunity for increased injury. Be aware of cords lying on the ground, lit candles and decorative items that may seem new and exciting to your child.

4.    Keep toys in good condition. “Children can be hard on their toys, so you’ll want to do regular checks to make sure toys are still in good shape,” Steelman said. “If toys are broken, you need to discard them. They won’t operate as they are supposed to and could potentially cause problems – especially if small parts have become loose.”

5.    Monitor toy recalls. Toys and other products that don’t meet federal safety standards are recalled every day. Stores are required to remove these products from their shelves, but they may already be in your home. “If you hear about the recall of a toy or other product your child uses, it’s important to dispose of it immediately,” Steelman said. “They are recalling it for a reason and you’ll want to get that out of your home.” The Consumer Product Safety Commission maintains a list of government-recalled products on their website, along with a searchable database of product reports. To make sure you’re always up to date, sign up with an organization, such as Safe Kids Worldwide , that sends regular emails with recalled toys and products for children.

“Of course we want the holidays to be fun for our kids, but nothing puts a damper on the holiday spirit like a trip to the ER,” Steelman said.

For the happiest holiday, put safety first and all will be merry.