For many, winter is a time to get out and enjoy family-friendly activities such as skating, sledding, and building snowmen. However, cold winter weather can also pose serious health and safety risks for young children. Here are some tips for keeping your child safe this winter.
Choose winter outfits wisely
Layers are crucial in winter. Children have a lower tolerance to cold weather than adults do, so dress your child in one more layer than you would put on yourself. Ensure their ears are covered by their hat, and that they wear warmer mittens instead of gloves. If your child’s clothing becomes wet or sweaty, take them inside and give them dry clothes right away. Ensure your child’s clothing doesn’t have drawstrings or any other hanging items that can be caught while playing – look for snaps or Velcro instead. Scarves can also pose a hazard in young children.
Limit your child’s outdoor time
Outdoor play in the winter can be fun, but children shouldn’t stay outside too long. To help reduce the risk of frostbite, ensure they take frequent breaks to come back inside and warm up. Bring them inside if they get wet. If the weather is -13°F or lower, exposed skin will begin to freeze.
Watch for frostbite and hypothermia
If a child spends too much time in extreme winter weather, they are at a greater risk for frostnip or frostbite. Frostnip is an early warning sign for frostbite, and presents as red or tingly skin. If your child begins to experience this, bring them inside, remove wet clothing, and immerse the affected body part in warm 104-108°F water.
According to Kidshealth.org, “Frostbite occurs mostly on fingers, toes, ears, noses, and cheeks. The area becomes very cold and turns white or yellowish gray.” Hypothermia warning signs are shivering, slurred or mumbling speech, confusion, a weak pulse, and unusual lack of coordination. These are both emergency situations, and your child should be taken to the nearest emergency room right away.
Don’t forget the sunscreen
In the winter, the thought of sunburn seems like a million miles away. However, because of the reflective nature of snow, up to 85% of the sun’s harmful UV rays can still affect your child. Apply sunscreen to exposed areas of your child’s skin 15 to 30 minutes before they go out to play.
Be safe in your surroundings
Teaching your child safety skills in winter is vitally important. For example:
- Do not walk across icy lakes or rivers, as the ice may be thinner than it looks.
- Do not put metal objects in or on your mouth, because lips and tongues can freeze to the metal.
- Do not eat snow, because it may be dirty.
- Play away from roads and snowbanks, as the piled-up snow could limit the view of drivers.
- Stay away from snowplows and snowblowers.
- Never throw snowballs at people or animals, as they could contain ice or small pieces of other harmful debris.
- Don’t build snow forts, as they can collapse.
Take safety precautions with activities
Here are some key safety tips for some popular winter activities:
- Ice Skating Safety Tips
- A proper ski or hockey helmet should always be worn, and replaced every five years.
- Skates should be comfortable and snug, with good ankle support.
- Skating rinks are safer than lakes or ponds, as the ice thickness is monitored.
- Children should skate in areas that are quiet and free of obstacles.
- Sledding Safety Tips
- Children should wear ski or hockey helmets on sleds, to prevent head injury from falling.
- Ensure children sled sitting up or kneeling, rather than lying down head-first.
- Allow your child to sled only on hills that are safe – look for an obstacle-free slope of 30° or less, which ends in a long and flat area.
- Keep away from roads.
- Skiing or Snowboarding Safety Tips
- Ensure that children take lessons from a qualified instructor.
- Always supervise your child when skiing or snowboarding.
- Children should wear ski helmets with adequate side vents so they can hear.
- Protective ski goggles should be worn as well.
- Equipment should be checked once per year by a qualified technician.
- Because injuries occur after a loss of control, stunts, or fatigue, ensure your child can control their speed, avoid stunts, and is not overly tired.
- Stick to open ski areas and marked trails, and avoid icy conditions.