Winter is a season fun for both children and adults alike. It is hard to not want to go outside when the prospects of building snowmen, sledding, and playing winter sports are in your future. However, winter also has its dangers. Here are some tips for keeping your children safe and healthy when playing outside in the winter.
Stop Winter Colds
It’s hard to have fun when you don’t feel well, no matter the season. You may think keeping your children away from the cold will keep them from being sick, but cold weather actually doesn’t cause colds. Colds are caused mainly by viruses that we are more commonly exposed to in the winter and spread easily when school is in session. With children in such close contact, colds are spread through respiratory droplets in the air and on hands. A way to help prevent the spread of colds is to teach your children good hand washing techniques. Also, have them cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing by using the bend of their elbow. The most important thing to keep your child healthy is to get them immunized and keep their vaccinations current. This includes the flu shot for children 6 months and older.
Before your children go outside, make sure they are warm enough. A good tip is to dress babies and young children in one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions. Don’t forget those winter accessories. Warm boots, gloves/mittens, and a hat all make a big difference. Tip: Buy a pair of boots that if your child needs to wear two pairs of socks, the fit is still comfortable. It is always better to have to remove clothing because they are too warm than to not have enough. If your child’s clothing has drawstrings, remove them and replace them with velcro to prevent injuries from them getting caught on tree branches. Part of being warm is also knowing when it is time to go inside. Children don’t have the same tolerance for the cold that adults do. Limit their time outside. No matter what, consider going inside if the temperature drops below 0 degrees F.
Now that your child is warm enough, it is time to have some fun! Always supervise children when they are outside. Injuries can occur quickly when kids are sledding. Make sure they are sledding feet first or sitting up instead of lying down head-first. Consider giving them a ski or hockey helmet and never use a sled with sharp or jagged edges. Pick an area that is clear of obstructions like trees or fences. A sledding hiss should have a slope less than 30 degrees with a flat runoff at the end.
Check their equipment every year for fit and maintenance. Before hitting the slopes, make sure your child is well protected. Along with their basic winter clothing, always have them wear a helmet. You can also give them wrist guards. Brightly colored clothing will ensure your child is seen no matter the time of day. When they are learning, have them take lessons from a qualified skiing or snowboarding instructor. Once confident, they can take to the slopes. However never let them ski or snowboard alone and make sure they are in control of their speed. Injuries can happen from loss of control, fatigue, and stunts. Watch out for other skiers, snowboarders, obstacles, and icy hills and stay on the trail.
If your child likes to ice skate, keep the same rules when it comes to inspecting their equipment and making sure they are dressed appropriately. Always have them wear a hockey or ski helmet and make sure their skates have good ankle support. If possible, take them to public indoor or outdoor rinks. If this is not possible, then make sure you obey the signs near the ice. Never assume it’s safe to skate on a lake or pond. Have an adult make sure the ice is at least 10cm (4 inches) thick and check with the local weather authorities for information about ice thickness. Do not walk on ice near moving water. Ice near moving water will vary in thickness and is highly unpredictable.
Know the warning signs of hypothermia. This is when your child’s body temperature drops below normal. Hypothermia usually occurs when your child isn’t dressed warmly enough or when their clothing gets wet. Signs include shivering, lethargy, and clumsiness. If their temperature drops further, they may slur their speech. If you notice these symptoms, call 911 immediately, then remove wet clothing. Wrap them in warm clothing and a blanket until help arrives.
Another thing to watch out for is frostbite. This is more likely to occur on your child’s fingers, toes, nose, and ears. First, the skin will look red and tingle, then it will start to turn grey and your child will experience pain. If it turns white, cold, and hard, the pain will stop. Then the skin thaws, blisters will appear. Frostbite can be prevented by wearing appropriate clothing and bringing them inside if the temperature is too cold or they get wet. If you suspect frostbite, place the affected parts in warm (not hot) water and treat the pain with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Cover your child with blankets and give them a warm drink. If you see blisters appear, immediately seek medical care.