Cold, ice, and snow safety
Cold, Snow and Ice Safety for kidsWinter days are fun for kids, especially when the schools are closed and kids plan to do a lot of activities in snow. However, parents should ensure that kids play safely and are clothed appropriately when out on a snowy day.
Why it is so important to follow snow safety rules?
Snow activities such as sledding, ice-skating, skiing and snowboarding can be hazardous at times, especially on slippery icy grounds or when crashing into rocks or trees. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a study (conducted by Injury Center) found that 213,000 people were treated in emergency departments (during the year 2004-2005) because of outdoor recreational injuries in the snow. The study found that outdoor recreational activities like snowboarding and skiing caused injuries to the head, neck and limbs in the form of fractures, sprains, strains and even traumatic brain injury (6.5%). And the majority of people injured were males between 10-24 years of age.
Safety measures for playing in the snow and ice
Parents should set limits for their kids while playing in the snow or icy surfaces. They should ensure that kids come indoors at regular intervals to warm up. Parents should make sure that kids wear helmets while ice-skating, sledding, snowboarding, snowmobiling and skiing.
Parents should check the icy surface before they allow the kids to skate. They should ensure that there are no cracks, or holes or debris on the ice. Children should be advised to skate along with the crowd and not in the opposite direction. It is best that they skate with their friends or be in a group. Kids should not eat candies or chew gum while skating.
Parents should supervise kids while sledding. Children should not lie down while sledding. They should sit up with feet forward. Proper sled with a steering device should be used instead of snow disk or tubes. Parents should ensure that there are no obstructions on the slopes such as trees or rocks. The slopes should not be steep and should end on a flat surface. Children should not sled in crowded areas and younger kids should sled in relatively obstacle-free zones.
Snowboarding or skiing
The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) does not recommend snowboarding for children under age 7. Parents should supervise younger kids while snowboarding and make sure that older children are accompanied by friends. AAP recommends that skiers use safety bindings and snowboarders should wear gloves (with built-in wrist guards). Snowboarding and skiing should be done on slopes with no obstacles, slopes that are not steep, and slopes that are not crowded.
AAP recommends that children under age 16 should not operate snowmobiles (while kids under 6 should not ride them at all). Snowmobiles should be ridden safely in marked trails along with adults and at safe speeds. Parents should ensure that kids’ sleds or ski skates are not pulled by a snowmobiles.
Health concerns during winter
Not only are outdoor recreational activities hazardous but cold temperatures. Children who are out in the snow for long or indoors without warm clothes can suffer cold-related injuries. Health problems such as hypothermia, frostbite, nosebleeds and flu are common during winter.
When the child’s temperature falls below the normal level due to exposure to extreme cold weather, then the child may develop hypothermia. Symptoms of hypothermia are shivering, slurred speech, low body temperature, lethargy and clumsiness. Parents should call 911 if they suspect that their child has hypothermia.
When a child is exposed to extreme freezing temperature or wind chill, then the child can develop frostbite. Frostbite can happen within few minutes and the most commonly affected areas are feet, hands, nose, ears, cheeks and lips. Frostbite affects the skin and tissues beneath it making it pale and gray. Symptoms of frostbite are: burning and pricking pain growing into numbness, blisters and hard-cold skin.
Parents should bring the child affected with frostbite indoors and apply warm water (not hot water) to the affected parts. The affected parts should not be rubbed. The child should be dried and clothed with dry warm clothes and blankets. He/she should be given something warm to drink. Parents can call the doctor if the child complains of numbness.
Nosebleeds are common during winter. Parents can use saline drops to keep the child’s nose moist or use a cold air humidifier to prevent nosebleeds.
Safety measures during winter
Winter clothes – Parents should ensure that kids wear appropriate winter clothing especially when outdoors. Their winter wears include thermal longs, turtle neck sweaters, mittens or gloves, socks, boots, one or two shirts, pants, coat and hat. Parents can make kids wear several layers of thin clothes, which can keep them dry and warm.
Hydrated – Children should drink enough liquids and eat well before playing outside. Being hydrated is important even in cold weather.
Snow shoveling – Younger kids should not be allowed to shovel snow for it is a strenuous activity and it can strain muscles and cause exhaustion. Older kids should not be allowed to do snow shoveling alone as there is high prevalence of back strain, slips and falls.
Flu – Flu and other respiratory ailments are common during winter. Winter does not cause flu or respiratory problems. Children spend more time indoors and around other children (who may be sick) during cold weather. Viruses may survive in the environment longer during winter and hence it is easy to catch infections. Parents should teach their kids to wash hands often during winter. It is also important to cough or sneeze into the hand or use a handkerchief.
Sunscreen – Parents should use sunscreen lotions for children when they go out during winter. Children can develop sunburn caused by sun rays reflected from snow on the ground. This reflected sunlight has up to 85% of the harmful ultraviolet rays delivered by direct sunlight.
Walking on slippery surfaces – Slippery surface can cause falls and can result in strains, sprains and injuries. Parents should teach their children to walk safely on slippery icy grounds by taking short steps. Kids should walk slowly, flat-footed and bend their knees a little while forwarding their steps on slippery ground.
Written by: Irene J
Edited by: Michael K. Davis, MD
1. Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 2008, National estimates of outdoor recreational injuries treated in emergency departments, United States
2. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2008, Winter Safety Tips,