Winter Safety Tips

Children love wintertime and the outdoor activities it offers, including ice skating, sledding, snowboarding and skiing. But winter, especially in the Midwest where it can get very cold, can pose some safety concerns. Each year hospital emergency departments in the U.S. see 46,000 sledding injuries, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Most are children under the age of 15 who have suffered head injuries.

Below are some tips to keep children safe and warm while playing outdoors this winter.

Dress Children Properly

  • Dress infants and children for outdoor activities in several thin layers to keep them warm and dry. Appropriate clothing includes thermal long johns, turtlenecks, one or two shirts, pants, sweater, coat, warm socks, boots, gloves or mittens, and a hat
  • Older babies and young children should wear one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear
  • If possible, keep infants inside if it is colder than 40 degrees. Babies lose body heat faster than children and adults
  • Dress children in bright colors if they are playing or walking outdoors in snowy conditions

Prevent & Treat Hypothermia

Hypothermia develops when a child’s temperature falls below normal due to exposure to cold. It often happens when a child is playing outdoors in extremely cold weather without wearing proper clothing or when clothes get wet.

If it is damp or windy outside, hypothermia can occur in temperatures as warm as 50 degrees, so pay attention to winter weather advisories regarding wind chill and rain.

As hypothermia sets in, children may shiver and become lethargic and clumsy. Their speech may become slurred and their body temperature drops. If you suspect this is happening to your child, call 911 at once. Until help arrives, take the child indoors, remove any wet clothing and wrap the child in blankets or warm clothes.

Prevent & Treat Frostbite

Frostbite results when the skin and outer tissues become frozen. This condition tends to affect extremities like the fingers, toes, ears and nose, which may become pale, gray and blistered. At the same time, an affected child may complain that his or her skin burns or has become numb. Set reasonable time limits on outdoor play to prevent frostbite. Have children come inside periodically to warm up. 

A child with frostbite should be brought inside immediately, and the affected areas should be placed 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 the child with clothing or blankets and give them something warm to drink. If the numbness continues for more than a few minutes, call your doctor.

Supervise Skating for Safety

An adult should supervise children when they play near frozen lakes or ponds. Never assume that the ice on a frozen pond or lake will hold even a child’s weight. Even if the ice is strong in one area, it might be unsafe in another spot.

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.

Teach your child to skate safely by skating in the same direction as the crowd; avoiding darting across the ice; never skating alone; and never chewing gum or eating candy while skating. Also have your child wear a helmet while ice skating.

Supervise Sledding for Safety

Children should be supervised by an adult while sledding.

  • Make sure they wear a helmet
  • Sled in the daylight when visibility is good
  • Children under 5 years of age should have an adult sled with them
  • Avoid sledding in crowded areas or near trees, rocks and other obstacles
  • Make sure there is no street traffic or frozen water anywhere near the bottom of the sledding hill. A sled may not always come to a stop exactly where you want it to
  • Sledding feet first or sitting up, instead of lying down head-first, may prevent head injuries
  • Never ride on a sled that is being pulled by a car or snowmobile
  • Use steerable sleds, not snow disks or inner tubes
  • Check your child's sled to make sure it is in good condition with secure handholds and steering that works

Teach Your Children Skiing & Snowboarding Safety

Children should be taught to ski or snowboard by a qualified instructor in a program designed for children.

  • Avoid skiing in areas with trees and other obstacles
  • Never ski or snowboard alone
  • 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.
  • Wear a helmet
  • 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