Feature Archive

Winter Wonderland of Safety Tips

Here are some tips on how you can help kids have fun with Frosty while also keeping them safe.

By Heather Hatfield
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

Winter can be downright cold, and with the frosty air settling in for the long-haul, all you want to do is settle in for a long winter's nap. But your kids are ready to make the most of the miserable weather -- with ski trips, sledding, ice hockey, and more.

From teaching your young drivers how to handle snowy roads, to knowing when it's just too darn cold for your kids to venture out, WebMD has some safety tips on how you and your kids can safely enjoy the winter weather.

Keeping Warm

When the kids are ready to head out into the winter wonderland, there are a few factors to take into consideration. Richard Judelsohn, MD, a pediatrician in Buffalo, N.Y., and a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics tells WebMD:

  • Layer, layer, layer. "Multiple layers of clothing are more effective at preventing hypothermia than one big snowsuit," he says.
  • Cover the body, head to toe. "Gloves and hats are a must. "For the body parts that aren't covered, like the nose and around the eyes, some protection can be had against the cold by rubbing the area with petroleum jelly, especially if the child's nose is runny -- when the mucus hits cold, dry skin, it can irritate it, and petroleum jelly prevents this," he explains.
  • Enough's enough. "Make sure your kids know that when they start shivering, it's time to come inside and warm up. Use a temptation like hot chocolate to give them incentive to come inside."
  • Fighting frostbite. If your kids do overstay their welcome with Old Man Winter, frostbite can be an issue. "Superficial frostbite, when the skin turns a light gray color, is treated by coming indoors and applying something warm -- not hot -- to the affected area, like a heating pad or warm water. When the skin is frostbitten so that it's numb from the cold, that warrants immediate medical attention."
  • Know when to say no. "Find out the wind chill factor, and if it's more than 20 degrees below zero, it's just too dangerous. That's the time to put your foot down and say, 'No, you're not going outside.'"
  • Can you catch a cold from the cold? While you might think keeping the kids inside during the cold months will keep them healthy, that's not necessarily the case. "Colds are due to viral infections, and viral infections are spread by close contact with others," says Judelsohn -- not the cold weather. "If you're indoors with other people, even if you're warm and toasty, and someone is harboring a viral infection, you're at risk."

Wild Winter Sports

Most kids are involved in one kind of winter sport or activity, be it ice hockey, snowboarding, or even sledding, and each of these come with some amount of risk.

"The two most common injuries are limb injury, either a bruise or a fracture, and head injury," says Judelsohn. "So it is very important for any sport, in particular outdoor sports, that proper protective gear be used. As a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, we strongly recommend head gear for any sport that can cause a head injury, like skiing, snowboarding, hockey, or even sledding and tobogganing."

Another important item on the checklist is to check your child's equipment and know your child's skill level. "Make sure your children's equipment is appropriate for their size and their level of skill, and make sure it's functioning properly," Judelsohn says.

"One of the biggest factors is to know your child's limitations. "For example, a 9 year old shouldn't be playing physical checking hockey with 14 year olds; and on the slopes, if your child is a novice, don't take them to most difficult hill."

Driving Safety

When the roads are slick with ice and snow, driving can become treacherous. Here are some tips that will keep you and your kids safe on the roads this winter:

Pack an emergency kit. The American Automobile Association web site recommends you stock your car with an emergency kit that contains:

  • A flashlight
  • Jumper cables
  • A bag of sand or salt (to provide traction in case the car gets stuck in the snow)
  • A shovel
  • Warning devices (such as flares, blankets, or ice scrapers)
  • A fully charged cell phone

"As good as cars are today, they can still break down, so keep warm clothes and an emergency kit in the car, and most importantly, especially for young drivers who think they're strong and athletic and can walk a couple of miles for help in the winter, that's a mistake--the safest place to be is in the car," says John Paul, spokesman and Car Doctor for the American Automobile Association.

Teach young drivers winter safety skills. Adults can have difficulties driving during bad weather, so young drivers are especially at risk. Teach your kids who are new behind the wheel how to handle the ice and snow.

"It's all about practice and getting experience," says Paul. "Take a young driver out to an empty parking lot and slide around in the snow a little so they can experience what it feels like, how to avoid it, and how to correct it."

Also caution your teens that drive to slow it down on slick roads -- even if they're driving a sport utility vehicle (SUV). "On a snowy day, even though the speed limit is 40 or 50, you need to cut that speed in half and double the distance between you and the cars around you," says Paul. "SUV and all-wheel drive cars give people a false sense of confidence, especially new drivers. The SUV will get you up the hill better than rear-wheel or front-wheel drive, but it's nothing more than a 5,000 pound toboggan going down it; it won't improve breaking, and when people drive too fast in an SUV because they think they can, they skid just like any other car."

Also Paul encourages adults to be especially mindful in winter when driving with small children. "Parents will bundle their children in snow suits and then put them in a child passenger safety seat, and this takes away from the protection that is offered because the belts may not fit them properly with the added layers," he explains. "What you want to do is keep them in their regular clothes, buckle them in, and put their coats over them so they stay warm."

Hunkering Down

When you decide it is just too darn cold to send the kids outside to play, remember that you need to keep them safe inside.

According to the National Fire Protection Association web site, heating equipment, such as space heaters and wood stoves, is the No. 1 cause of home fires during the months of December, January, and February.

"One of the chief concerns we have during winter is heating equipment fires, primarily with space heaters," says Margie Coloian, spokeswoman for the National Fire Prevention Agency. "To prevent fires, we recommend you shut them off when you leave the room and when you sleep, and position them three feet away from anything that can burn. You also don't want children or your pets to tip space heaters over or be burned by older models that can get really hot, so make sure they stay away from them."

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a silent killer. "We recommend homes have carbon monoxide detectors," says Coloian. "When you burn fuel, including gas or oil, the carbon monoxide that is let off can build up, and if it's confined, it could be dangerous."

Keeping Rover Warm

Winter is no time to ignore your furry friends; pets need extra protection during the cold months, too. Here are some tips from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association that will help keep your pets warm and happy:

  • Layers work for pets, too! Even though your pet comes equipped with a layer of fur, sometimes it just isn't enough. Give your pet an extra layer with a warm sweater for those cold winter walks, especially if your pet has short hair.
  • Keep on eye on their paws. Your four-legged friend can get frostbite, so watch his paws, nose, and ears. And the chemicals used to melt snow on driveways and walkways can cause burns, so check your pet's paws, mouth and belly after each venture outside.
  • Protect your outdoor pet. If you have an outdoor pet, it should have a house that is dry and elevated, with clean, dry bedding facing away from the wind. It should also have a flap over the opening to prevent drafts. When the temperature drop below 30 degrees with wind chill, bring your outside pet -- in.
  • Keep the antifreeze away. Antifreeze, which has a sweet taste making it appealing to pets, is deadly even in small amounts. Make sure you clean up spills immediately before your pet decides to dig in.

Originally published Jan. 19, 2004.

Medically updated Jan. 18, 2005.


SOURCES: Margie Coloian, spokeswoman, National Fire Prevention Agency, Quincy, Mass. Richard Judelsohn, MD, pediatrician, Buffalo, N.Y.; spokesman American Academy of Pediatrics. John Paul, spokesman, American Automobile Association. American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 7:23:06 AM