When the Weather Outside Is Frightful

Winter safety recommendations for children issued by AAP, CPS

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

Few things stick in a child’s memory more than a perfect snow day. To ensure these winter play days aren't tainted by injury or illness, parents should be aware of the dangers tied to the coldest time of the year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a variety of winter safety tips last week to encourage parents to take preventative measures to protect their children from winter dangers. The following are crucial ways parents can keep their kids out of harm’s way.

Dressing Kids Appropriately

For outdoor activities, the AAP recommends dressing babies in several thin layers. As a rule of thumb, parents should dress babies and small children in one more layer than they would wear. Layering clothing allows kids to remove a layer if they become too warm, while still retaining the other layers’ heat. Babies and young children should also wear warm mittens, boots and a hat, preferably waterproof ones.

Blankets, quilts, pillows and other loose bedding should be kept out of an infant’s crib or sleep area, as they can cause suffocation and may contribute to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Parents should also avoid dressing their babies in overly bulky coats or snowsuits while riding in the car.

Protecting Against Frostbite and Hypothermia

Frostbite occurs when the skin and outer tissues come in contact with freezing temperatures for an extended period of time. This generally affects extremities such as toes, fingers, ears and noses. Affected skin may become pale, gray or blistered, and the child may complain of burning or numbness. Parents who suspect their child has frostbite should bring the child indoors immediately and place the frostbitten skin in warm — not hot — water.

The AAP urges parents not to rub the affected areas for warmth. If numbness or burning continues after drying the child off, wrapping him or her in blankets and giving the child a warm drink, a doctor should be called right away.

Hypothermia occurs when body temperature drops below normal. This usually occurs when a child has been outside in extreme cold for a long period of time without proper clothing, or has gotten his or her clothing wet. Children with hypothermia may become lethargic or have slurred speech. If parents suspect hypothermia, they should call 911 immediately. In the mean time, remove any wet clothing and wrap the child in warm blankets.

The AAP also recommends setting limits on time spent outdoors to prevent frostbite and hypothermia. Children should periodically come inside and warm up.

Managing Winter Sports

Ice skating is a wintertime favorite, and it's easy to find an approved skating area by inquiring with the local police department. Children should only skate on approved surfaces, never chew gum while skating, skate in the same direction as the crowd, wear appropriate pads and a helmet, and never skate alone.

Before sledding, parents should ensure the sled is structurally sound, splinter-free and steerable. Children should avoid sledding with inner tubes and snow disks, stay away from motor vehicles, wear a helmet and always be supervised.

Tips for more extreme snow sports such as skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling are detailed on the AAP website.

The Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) adds to the AAP’s list with a few winter safety tips of its own.

Kids around the world may cringe to find out that the CPS does not condone snowball fights, as they often lead to injuries, especially to the eyes. Children should also not build snow forts or tunnels, as they can collapse and lead to suffocation. Snowplows may also not be aware children are inside.

Both organizations agree that supervision is extremely important. The CPS recommends a buddy system, in which friends look out for each other. An adult should also always supervise children younger than 8.

Review Date: 
January 22, 2016