Summer may be the peak season for kids to run around and have fun while playing outside, but the fun certainly doesn’t have to end once the temperatures cool off. Winter can open the door to a whole new world of fun that kids can’t enjoy at any other time of year. Snowball fights! Building snowmen! Sledding! Making snow angels! And if they can spend time doing any of these things during a snow day from school, even better! As a lifelong Michigan resident, I certainly have many fond memories of doing these sorts of things as a kid and now it’s a joy to be able to relive the fun as an adult through my own family.
But as fun and exciting winter can be for children, cold weather can absolutely come with a risk of health and safety problems if proper precautions aren’t taken.
Preventing Frostbite & Hypothermia
Cold temperatures can be particularly problematic for young children. A child’s body not only loses heat faster than an adult’s body, children are also more likely to resist going inside to warm up if they’re busy having fun. This means they need some extra help preventing things like frostbite and hypothermia.
First and foremost, remember that there is a point when it’s best to say no to playing outside. When it comes to the question of “How cold is too cold to play outside,” it’s really important to look at the wind chill since that reflects the temperature your body thinks it is. According to A Healthier Michigan, it’s generally safe for kids to play outside if the wind chill is 32℉ or higher. If the wind chill is between 31℉ and 13℉, it’s recommended that the kids come inside to warm up every 20-30 minutes. But if the wind chill drops below 13℉, it’s best to find an indoor activity to keep the kids busy.
If it’s safe to head outside, it’s time to make sure the kids are dressed appropriately for their outdoor fun. Hats, mittens, coats, socks and boots are essential, of course. For those outermost layers, waterproof and insulated options are best since they’re most effective at helping kids stay warm and dry. You may even want to have some back-up pairs of gloves and mittens around since those can get wet fastest. Beneath that, dressing in layers is highly recommended, both for warmth and as a way to further protect skin from moisture. A good rule of thumb is to dress children in one more layer than you would wear as an adult.
Since kids may be reluctant to come inside if they feel cold, it’s important to keep a close eye on them to watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
Frostbite very commonly occurs on parts of the body that are exposed in cold weather, such as the ears and nose, but it also often happens to fingers and toes. When skin becomes frostbitten, it can react in a few different ways. Sometimes, it’s painful or feels like it’s burning before suddenly going numb. Skin may also turn gray and become blistered. If you see that your child has gotten frostbite, don’t try to warm them up by suddenly applying lots of heat. Instead, try more gradual ways of warming them up, like applying warm washcloths to the affected area or soaking the area in warm water. If there are any blisters, don’t pop them.
With hypothermia, symptoms include shivering, sluggish movement, blue lips, slurring words, and clumsy actions. If your child shows signs of hypothermia, bring them inside immediately and call 911 for help.
On a snowy day, spending some time doing some sledding can be an excellent way to have fun and make some great memories. Just make sure you do so in a safe location and that sleds are used safely.
Before anyone starts heading down the hill, check that the hill is free of things like trees, large rocks, and fences that someone could easily slide into. Avoid hills that are too steep or located near busy roads — or too close to any road, regardless of how busy they are. While on the sled, make sure the kids know to go down the hill sitting up with their feet forward. It might seem like a fun idea to go sledding down a hill head-first, backwards, or while laying down, but it’s very easy to get hurt that way.
Sometimes, kids might want to head out to the sledding hill even if it isn’t snowy. Maybe some of the snow melted and now the hill is covered with a mix of snow and mud. If the sledding hill is a little bit muddy, just remember that this may make it easier for clothing to get wet and create some extra slippery spots that could be easy to fall on. I remember spending an afternoon sledding with my cousin when we were kids, even though the hill was covered in mud. Was it messy? Absolutely. Was it really easy to fall down? Yep. But was it fun? Absolutely — as long as you’re staying warm and dry.
Car Seat Safety
As important as it is to make sure your kids stay warm during the cold winter months, it’s also important to remember to make sure they’re staying warm in safe ways. When they’re in their car seats, puffy, bulky coats can interfere with the fit of the straps and leave them underprotected in the event of a car crash.
For car seats to work effectively, the straps need to be adjusted to be close to the body. When you pinch the harness, you shouldn’t have any slack between your thumb and index finger. When car seat straps are adjusted over a puffy coat, the fit can be very deceptive. Even if it seems like the straps are adjusted correctly, that can change during a car crash.
During a car accident, the fluffy material in the coat will become compressed and create a gap between the strap and your child, leaving room for the child to move around during the crash. The gap this creates can be as much as 2-4 inches and, while that might not sound like a lot, those few inches can significantly increase the risk of injury.
Ideally, children should be put in their car seat while wearing layers of clothing that fit close to the body with something like a fleece jacket as the outer layer. Instead of wearing a heavier coat while in the car seat, it could be removed and placed over them like a blanket once the straps are adjusted instead. Some companies make coats specifically designed to be safe to wear while in a car seat.
If you are considering a car seat cover to help your child stay warm in the car, make sure you choose one designed to go on after the child is buckled into the seat. These won’t interfere with strap fit the way other types can.
Whether you’ll be spending the winter months enjoying the snow in your home backyard or hitting the local sledding hill, I hope your winter is full of happy family memories you’ll cherish for years to come!
About the author:
Angela is a Michigan-based writer who spends her time working with a wide range of companies in the Metro Detroit area, such as The Law Offices of Goodwin & Scieszka. When not writing, she enjoys antiquing and being a very amateur gardener.