Winter Weather Safety Guide

The winter season is officially here, which means that snow, ice, wind, and cold can start freezing, chapping, and irritating your kids. Use our tips below to keep your children safe all season long.

December 21, 2005 -- While winter can be a season of fun and adventure for children, it can also be very dangerous. Before the temperature gets any lower, consult our winter weather safety guide below for tips from Parents.com and the American Academy of Pediatrics on how to keep your family safe.

WHAT TO WEAR

Dress your child in layers: It will help keep her warm and dry outside. The rule of thumb for older babies and young children is to dress them in one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions. Always be sure to check the windchill (as well as the temperature) before sending her out to play. To be on the safe side, don't let children play outdoors if the windchill is 10?F or lower.

KIDS:

  • First layer: Thermal underwear, sock liners, wool socks, and glove liners.
  • Second layer: Turtleneck, sweater, or a vest, plus sweatpants or ski pants.
  • Third layer: Water-resistant jacket, a hat, mittens, and waterproof boots with gripping surfaces. Instead of a scarf, buy a neck gaiter. A scarf can get caught on objects, posing a strangulation hazard.

BABIES:

  • Infants should only be taken out in very cold weather when absolutely necessary. To prevent overheating, dress your child in one or two more layers than you are wearing.
  • Be sure her fingers, toes, ears, nose, and chin are covered but that she can still breathe easily.
  • Do not place a blanket or a snowsuit under the car seat straps. In the event of an accident, extra inches between the harness and your baby could cause her to slip out of the car seat.

NOTE: Blankets, quilts, pillows, sheepskins, and other loose bedding may contribute to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and should be kept out of an infant's sleeping environment. Sleep clothing like one-piece sleepers is preferred. If a blanket must be used to keep a sleeping infant warm, it should be tucked in around the crib mattress, reaching only as far as your baby's chest, so the infant's face is less likely to become covered by bedding.

PROTECTING BABY'S SKIN

The winter season can be the worst for your child's tender skin. Cold, dry air can sap precious moisture, and your little one's rosy cheeks can quickly become leathery and wind-burned. Luckily, there are basic steps you can take to protect your child from seasonal skin hazards.

  • Spread it on thick. If any areas of your child's skin look or feel dry, immediately apply a generous amount of baby moisturizing cream or a thick ointment like petroleum jelly.
  • Follow your nose. Purchase only perfume-free baby soaps and lotions, which are less likely to be irritating.
  • Get misty. "Using a humidifier, especially in your child's room, can minimize the drying effects of the season," says Anthony J. Mancini, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics and dermatology at Northwestern University, in Chicago. For safety reasons, don't place the humidifier near or directly over your child.
  • Be clothes-conscious. Bundling your child in too many or too heavy layers can make him sweat, leading to blocked glands and skin irritation, while under-dressing can dry out exposed skin or aggravate a preexisting condition.
  • Cut down on daily baths. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants don't need to be bathed every day. Two or three times a week is enough for an infant's first year; more baths may dry out the skin, especially during the winter. If your baby finds a daily bath soothing, make sure it lasts no longer than 10 minutes and that the water is lukewarm, not hot.

COMMON HEALTH CONCERNS

There are some health troubles that emerge more often in the winter than in other seasons. Nosebleeds: If your child suffers from winter nosebleeds, try using a cold air humidifier in the child's room at night. Saline nose drops may help keep tissues moist. If bleeding is severe or recurrent, contact your pediatrician.

  • Viruses: The viruses that cause colds and flu tend to be more common in the winter. Frequent hand washing and teaching your child to sneeze or cough away from others may help reduce the risk of colds and flu.
  • The Flu: Children between the ages of six and 23 months should get the influenza vaccine to reduce their risk of getting the flu.

HYPOTHERMIA

Hypothermia develops when a child's temperature falls below normal due to exposure to cold, and often happens when a child plays outdoors in extremely cold weather without proper clothing.

FOR MILD HYPOTHERMIA:

  • Symptoms: Shivering; goosebumps; numb hands
  • Treatment: Get your child out of the cold, and remove wet clothing. Have him move about and drink a hot beverage to raise his body temperature.

FOR MODERATE HYPOTHERMIA:

  • Symptoms: Intense shivering; lack of muscle coordination; lethargy; confusion; drowsiness. In severe cases, the child stops shivering and becomes incoherent and possibly unconscious.
  • Treatment: Call 911. If care is unavailable immediately, get your child inside. Dry her and wrap her in layers. Focus on warming core areas: chest, neck, head, and groin. Don't treat with direct heat.

FOR INFANT HYPOTHERMIA:

  • Symptoms: Bright-red, cold skin; low energy; lack of appetite.
  • Treatment: Call 911 immediately. Move your baby to a warm room, make sure his clothes are dry, and wrap him in layers.

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. You can avoid it by setting reasonable time limits on outdoor play, and have your children come inside periodically to warm up.

FOR FROSTNIP (MILD FROSTBITE):

  • Symptoms: White patches of skin on the ears, nose, cheeks, fingers, or toes; numbness.
  • Treatment: Get your child inside. Have him change clothes and soak affected areas in warm-not hot-water until the skin turns pink. 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, and give him something warm to drink.

FOR FROSTBITE:

  • Symptoms: Waxy, hard, white or grayish-yellow skin; numbness; burning sensation. In severe cases, the skin will turn blue to purple or splotchy; you should immediately go to the emergency room.
  • Treatment: Follow treatment for frostnip. Rewarm skin that can't be soaked in water with blankets, or put feet or hands under your armpit or between your hands. Apply sterile gauze. Call a doctor. Do not use direct heat, rub the area, or break blisters.

WINTER STORMS

Many parts of the county will get blanketed with snow and ice when winter storms strike this season. There are things you can do to ahead of time, however, that will help keep your family safe.

HOW TO PREPARE:

  • It's possible to lose electricity during a bad winter storm (particularly when there's a lot of ice involved), so make sure to stock up on batteries for flashlights and a battery-powered radio or television.
  • Listen for updated emergency information.
  • Keep your car's gas tank full, which will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Avoid unnecessary travel. Go to the supermarket ahead of time and buy enough supplies to feed your family for a few days.
  • Move animals to sheltered areas.
  • Understand the hazards of wind chill, which combines the cooling effect of wind and cold temperature on exposed skin.

WHAT TO DO DURING A WINTER STORM:

  • Stay inside and dress warmly during the storm. Layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing will keep you more insulated than one bulky sweater.
  • Listen to a battery-powered radio or television for updated emergency information.
  • Eat regularly. Food provides the body with energy so it can produce its own heat.
  • Keep the body replenished with fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Enjoy the quality time you're getting with your family!

ACTIVITIES AND SPORTS

Safety pointers to help you prevent winter-sports injuries.

WHEN SLEDDING:

  • Children should be supervised, and younger children should be separated from older children. Avoid sledding in overcrowded areas.
  • Make sure the area is free of trees, posts, and fences and that the slope ends in a flat, open space-not a street, a parking lot, or a pond.
  • Sled slopes should be covered in snow, not ice, and should not be too steep (slope of less than 30 degrees).
  • Teach your child to sit facing forward, using his feet to steer (never headfirst).
  • Use steerable sleds, not snow disks or inner tubes. Sleds should be structurally sound and free of sharp objects and splinters.
  • Don't let kids sled on plastic sheets or other materials that could be pierced by objects on the ground.

WHEN ICE-SKATING:

  • Have your child wear wrist guards to protect against breaks and sprains during falls. Consider having him wear a helmet.
  • Encourage him to skate with the crowd and avoid darting across the ice.
  • Advise your child never to skate alone.
  • Lace skates snugly to make sure they provide firm ankle support.
  • Tell your child not to chew gum or eat candy while skating.
  • If your child is skating outdoors, don't let him go out on ice that hasn't been tested by a knowledgeable adult.

WHEN SKIING OR SNOWBOARDING:

  • Children should be taught to ski or snowboard by a qualified instructor in a program designed for children.
  • Make sure equipment fits properly and is in good condition (have it checked by a qualified ski technician). Consider having your child wear a helmet.
  • Have your child wear layers and sunglasses or goggles. Snowboarders should wear gloves with built-in wrist guards. Apply sunscreen.
  • Don't let her ski alone.
  • Encourage rest breaks every two or three runs (injuries are more likely when kids are tired).
  • Slopes should fit the ability and experience of the skier or snowboarder. Avoid overcrowded slopes.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 7 should not snowboard.

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