How to Keep Your Kids Safe Outside This Winter

Part of winter's beauty is having fun in all that snow. Get the whole family outside with these tips on winter safety for kids.

Every year, more than 40,000 children end up in the emergency room from sledding, skiing and other winter activity-related injuries. However, with a little planning and common sense, there’s no reason your children can’t enjoy outdoor play safely during the cold winter months.

Know How Cold Is Too Cold

House with a large amount of snow on its roofZvozdochka/Getty Images

Keep an eye on the air temperature and don’t forget to take the wind chill into account. According to the National Weather Service, it feels much colder on windy days because the wind pulls heat from the body, which ultimately results in deceased internal body temperatures.

Experts disagree on how cold is too cold for young children. American pediatricians recommend limiting time outside when temperatures reach below 0 degrees F. Canadian pediatricians set the limit at -14 F, while in Nordic countries napping outside in freezing temperatures is common. Play it safe. Once temperatures drop below 0 F, monitor children frequently for signs of frostbite, including complaints of tingling skin or red skin that begins to turn white.

In general, babies and young children are most vulnerable to the cold and their time outside should be limited, particularly on the coldest days.

Dressing correctly for the cold is a factor, too. Read on for more on that.

How to Dress for Cold Weather

Layers Anadolu Agency / Contributor/Getty Images

As the saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Follow these tips to properly outfit children when they’re outside during cold temps.

Layer Up

Dress babies and young children in layers. Staying warm and dry is key. The layer closest to the skin should be a thin, wicking layer, such as long underwear made of merino wool. The outermost layer should be wind- and waterproof. For active play in snow, a snowsuit, snowpants or waterproof bibs and a windproof coat are ideal.

Rule of thumb: Give them one more layer than adults would wear in the same conditions.

Accessorize Warmly

Always outfit children in a hat, boots and gloves or mittens at a minimum.

Mittens make a warmer choice than gloves, as they allow fingers to bunch together for warmth. If your child needs dexterity, consider liner gloves underneath the mittens or a really good pair of insulated ski gloves.

Wool socks are especially helpful to keep feet warm. For a long day on outside, consider hand or toe warmers. If you use disposable warmers, monitor their use and ensure they are thrown away properly at the end of the day.

Cover Up

Limit exposed skin as much as possible and watch for signs of frostbite. A warm wool scarf will keep the neck and face covered, as will a neck gaiter or buff, which can cover the lower face, too. Balaclavas and ski masks can provide near-total face coverage — all but the eyes.

Car Seat Considerations

When using a car seat in winter, outfit children in thin, tightly-fitting layers rather than thick, bulky winter coats or snowsuits. Add any necessary insulating layers over the top of the car seat harness, not under it, so the harness remains tight in the event of a crash.

Stay Safe Around Outdoor Fires

BonfireArtyom Geodakyan / Contributor/Getty Images

Bonfires are a fun way to stay warm outside on a cold day. However, as fire pits and outdoor heaters increased in popularity, so too have the number of burn-related visits to the emergency room. In 2017, more than 1,300 children under the age of five were treated for outdoor fire-related injuries, according to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). So take these precautions:

Start and Stop Smart

Safely establish your outdoor fire pit. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby, and make sure kids are never left unattended. Be sure to completely put the fire out. Many burns can occur the day after, when children touch still-hot coals.

Indulge in Kids’ Curiosity

Talk them through what you’re doing as you build the fire. Call out the many ways you’re being careful and why, to help demystify the process. And here’s an idea: Let them build their own “fire” out of snack foods at the same time.

Distance Matters

Teach children they should maintain a safe distance from the fire. Don’t allow them to poke at it or throw things into it. Watch out for loose items of clothing and remind children how to stop, drop and roll.

Play Safely In Winter

sledBrocreative/Shutterstock

Enjoy all the fun cold-weather classics — sledding, skating, skiing and more — with these safety tips in mind:

Wear Helmets

There’s a risk of head injury when sledding, skating, skiing and snowboarding. Proper helmet usage could prevent or minimize more than 40 percent of snow skiing and snowboarding-related head injuries that occur each year, according to a report by the CPSC. Add knee and elbow pads when skating, too.

(Snowball) Fight Fair

Have fun, but skip the ice balls, which can be dangerous. Instruct children to avoid throwing snowballs at anyone’s head, or at vehicles.

Hydrate

Winter is already dry, and activity only increases the need for hydration. Bring plenty of water and snacks if you plan to be out for several hours.

Don’t Forget Sunscreen and Sunglasses

The sun’s glare off the snow can burn the surface of the eye, causing snowblindness, a temporary but painful condition.

And though sunburns are most commonly associated with summer, sunscreen also remains important during the winter months. Due to reflection of UV light by snow, it’s especially important to slather sunscreen on the back of the ears, chin and nose.

Take Breaks

Take frequent timeouts to warm up inside. Children may not realize how cold they are when they are having fun playing outside in the snow. Be especially mindful of the time children spent outdoors when it is cold and really windy. In those conditions, frostbite sets in much faster than normal.

Supervise Winter Activities

Pediatricians recommend that children, especially those under the age of eight, should always be supervised when outside. Take kids’ skill level and maturity into consideration when thinking about allowing them to play unsupervised. When skiing, skating or sledding, instruct kids under the age of 16 to always use the buddy system.

Winter Sport-Specific Tips

shutterstock_566497147 winter skis skiingMacgork/Shutterstock

Sledding Safety

According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly 25,000 children age 15 are seen in the emergency department each year for sledding injuries, many of which are severe. Choose a hill away from roadways or obstructions such as trees. Ideally, it should have less than a 30-degree incline and end with a flat bottom. Children should ride sitting up or feet-first, rather than head-first. Know that sleds or toboggans are safer and easier to control than saucers or tubes.

Skiing and Snowboarding Safety

Consider a lesson with a professional before venturing out on your own as a family. Check that equipment fits properly, especially at the beginning of each season.

Snowmobile Safely

Children under the age of six should never ride on snowmobiles, and those under the age of 16 shouldn’t operate them. Always wear protective equipment including goggles, waterproof snowsuits and helmets — head trauma is the leading cause of snowmobile accident deaths. Never use snowmobiles to pull sleds or tubes.

Susan Bronson
Susan Bronson is a writer and editor based in Northern Wisconsin.