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Winter Safety: Keep Kids Safe From Hypothermia, Frostbite, and Injury

By

Father and son shoveling snow
Erica Greis

While it's important for your child to stay physically active in the winter, the colder months mean special winter safety precautions. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers this important advice:

What to Wear: Winter Clothing and Gear

Dress infants and children warmly for outdoor activities. Several thin layers will keep them dry and warm. Dress older babies and young children in one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions. Kids should wear:

  • thermal long johns
  • turtlenecks
  • one or two shirts
  • pants
  • sweater
  • coat
  • warm socks
  • boots
  • gloves or mittens
  • hat

Know the Signs of Hypothermia

Hypothermia develops when a child's temperature falls below normal due to exposure to cold. It often happens when a youngster is playing outdoors in extremely cold weather without wearing proper clothing. As hypothermia sets in, the child may shiver and become lethargic and clumsy. His speech may become slurred and his body temperature will decline.

If you suspect your child is hypothermic, call 911 at once. Until help arrives, take your child indoors, remove any wet clothing, and wrap him in blankets or warm clothes.

Treat Frostbite

Frostbite happens when the skin and outer tissues become frozen. This condition tends to happen on extremities like the fingers, toes, ears and nose. They may become pale, gray and blistered. At the same time, the child may complain that her skin burns or has become numb.

If frostbite occurs, bring the child indoors and place the frostbitten parts of her body in warm (not hot) water. 104° Fahrenheit (about the temperature of most hot tubs) is recommended. Warm washcloths may be applied to frostbitten noses, ears and lips. Do not rub the frozen areas.

After a few minutes, dry and cover him with clothing or blankets. Give him something warm to drink. If the numbness continues for more than a few minutes, call your doctor.

Winter Safety for Sports and Activities

Set reasonable time limits on outdoor play to prevent frostbite. Have children come inside periodically to warm up.

Ice Skating:

  • Allow children to skate only on approved surfaces. Check for signs posted by local police or recreation departments, or call your local police department to find out which areas have been approved.
  • Advise your child to: skate in the same direction as the crowd; avoid darting across the ice; never skate alone; not chew gum or eat candy while skating.
  • Consider having your child wear a helmet while ice skating.

Sledding:

  • Supervise children while sledding, and keep them away from motor vehicles.
  • Keep young children separated from older children.
  • Teach kids to sled feet first or sitting up, instead of lying down head-first, to prevent head injuries.
  • Consider having your child wear a helmet while sledding.
  • Use steerable sleds, not snow disks or inner tubes.
  • Sleds should be structurally sound and free of sharp edges and splinters, and the steering mechanism should be well lubricated.
  • Sled slopes should be free of obstructions like trees or fences, be covered in snow (not ice), not be too steep (slope of less than 30º), and end with a flat runoff.
  • Avoid sledding in crowded areas.

Snow Skiing and Snowboarding:

  • Children should be taught to ski or snowboard by a qualified instructor in a program designed for children.
  • Young children should always be supervised by an adult. Older children's need for adult supervision depends on their maturity and skill. If older children are not with an adult, they should always at least be accompanied by a friend.
  • The AAP recommends that children under age 7 not snowboard.
  • Consider having your child wear a helmet while skiing or snowboarding.
  • Equipment should fit the child. Skiers should wear safety bindings that are adjusted at least every year. Snowboarders should wear gloves with built-in wrist guards.
  • Slopes should fit the ability and experience of the skier or snowboarder. Avoid crowded slopes.
  • Avoid skiing in areas with trees and other obstacles.

Snowmobiling:

  • The AAP recommends that children under age 16 not operate snowmobiles and that children under age 6 never ride on snowmobiles.
  • Do not use a snowmobile to pull a sled or skiers.
  • Wear goggles and a safety helmet approved for use on motorized vehicles like motorcycles.
  • Travel at safe speeds.
  • Stay on marked trails, away from roads, water, railroads and pedestrians.

Sun Protection:

The sun's rays can still cause sunburn in the winter, especially when they reflect off snow. Make sure to cover your child's exposed skin with sunscreen.

Source: Winter Safety Tips, American Academy of Pediatrics, December 2010.

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