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Winter Safety
Winter can be an exciting time of year for children with the holidays and the changes in weather. Although the cold weather, rain and snow may tempt you to keep your children indoors, it is healthy for them to go outdoors every day to breathe fresh air, get exercise and enjoy nature. Here are some guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics for keeping your children healthy and safe during the winter months.

Winter health tips
  • If your child suffers from winter nosebleeds, try using a cold air humidifier in the bedroom at night. Saline nose drops may help keep tissues moist. If bleeding is severe or recurrent, consult your pediatrician.

  • Bathing two or three times a week is usually enough for an infant’s first year. More frequent baths may dry out the skin, especially during the winter.

  • Cold weather does not cause colds or flu, but the viruses that cause them tend to be more common in the winter, when children are in school and in closer contact with each other. Wash hands frequently and teach your child to sneeze or cough into her elbow to help reduce their spread.

  • Make sure children 6 to 23 months, as well as those with chronic illnesses including asthma, get the yearly influenza vaccine to reduce their risk of catching the flu.
Dressing your child for the weather
  • Dress infants and children warmly for outdoor activities. Several thin layers will keep them dry and warm. Clothing should consist of thermal long johns, turtlenecks, one or two shirts, pants, sweater, coat, warm socks, boots, gloves or mittens and a hat.

  • Dress older babies and young children in one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions.

  • For infants’ sleep environments, avoid loose bedding such as blankets, quilts, pillows and sheepskins, since they can contribute to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). One-piece sleepers are safer. If a blanket must be used to keep a sleeping infant warm, tuck it in around the cot mattress, reaching only as far as your baby’s chest, so the infant’s face is less likely to become covered by bedding.
Winter Sports and Activities
For all winter sports and activities, make sure your children are dressed for the weather. Also remember to apply sunscreen to your child’s exposed skin since the sun’s rays can still cause sunburn, especially when they reflect off the snow and at high altitudes. Set reasonable time limits on outdoor play and have your children come inside periodically to warm up. Follow the specific safety rules for each winter activity:

Ice Skating
  • Let children skate only on approved surfaces with solid ice. Check for signs posted by local police or recreation departments or call your local police department to find out which areas have been approved. Warn your children to avoid lakes and ponds, where they might fall through the ice.

  • Advise your children to never skate alone, always skate in the same direction as the crowd, avoid darting across the ice and to not chew gum or eat candy.
  • Supervise children. Keep young children separated from older ones.

  • Make sure sledding slopes are away from motor vehicles, not overcrowded, free of obstructions like fire hydrants or fences, covered in snow not ice, not too steep (a slope of less than 30 degrees) and end with a flat runoff.

  • Use sleds that can be steered rather than snow disks or inner tubes. Make sure sleds are structurally sound and free of sharp edges and splinters, and the steering mechanism is well lubricated.

  • Sled feet first and sitting up, instead of head first and lying down, to help prevent head injuries.
Snow Skiing and Snowboarding
  • A qualified instructor in a program designed for children should teach youngsters. Children should be at least 7 to snowboard.

  • Make sure children have safe equipment: an approved helmet and properly fitting equipment with safety bindings adjusted at least every year. Snowboarders should wear gloves with built-in wrist guards.

  • Make sure young children are always supervised by an adult when skiing or snowboarding. Older children’s need for adult supervision depends on their maturity and skill. If they are not with an adult, they should be accompanied by a friend and warned to never ski or snowboard alone.

  • Advise children to always stay on marked slopes, choose slopes that fit their ability and experience and avoid overcrowded slopes.
  • Children under 16 should not operate snowmobiles and children under 6 should never ride on them.

  • Never snowmobile alone.

  • Wear goggles and a safety helmet approved for use on motorized vehicles like motorcycles.

  • Travel at safe speeds.

  • Never use alcohol or other drugs before or during snowmobiling.

  • Stay on marked trails, away from roads, water, railroads and pedestrians.

  • Do not use a snowmobile to pull a sled or skiers.
Recognizing the danger signs of severe cold

  • Hypothermia develops when a child’s temperature falls below normal due to exposure to cold. It can happen when a child plays outdoors in extremely cold weather without proper clothing or when his clothes become wet.

  • As hypothermia sets in the child may shiver and become lethargic and clumsy. His speech may become slurred and his body temperature will fall.

  • If you suspect your child is hypothermic, call 911 at once. Until help arrives, take the child indoors, remove any wet clothing and wrap him in blankets or warm clothes.
  • Frostbite happens when the skin and outer tissues become frozen. It happens most frequently on the fingers, toes, ears and nose. They may become pale, gray and blistered, and the child may complain that his skin burns or feels numb.

  • If frostbite occurs, bring the child indoors and place the frostbitten parts of his body in warm (not hot) water. Warm washcloths may be applied to frostbitten nose, 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.
Remember to follow the above precautions for a safe and fun winter.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician