My children love playing outside in the winter; are there any safety tips we should know?
Winter is a great season for outdoor activities, such as sledding and skating but cold weather, ice, and snow can also be dangerous for children. The following tips will help parents and children enjoy winter activities safely.
- Children should not play outside alone. Establish a buddy system with one or more friends and have them look out for one another. Children younger than 8 should always be well supervised. Older children who are outdoors for a long time should also be monitored regularly.
- Check frequently to see that your child is warm and dry. Younger children should take regular breaks and come inside to warm up.
- Never send children outside in extreme weather conditions. Do not send your child outside to play if the temperature or the windchill is reported as -27 degrees Celsius )-16 Fahrenheit) or lower. At these temperatures, exposed skin will begin to freeze.
- Help children choose play areas with a warm shelter nearby such as their home or a friend’s home.
- Apply sunscreen to exposed skin, even when it is cloudy.
- Dress your children in layers that can be easily put on and taken off.
- Make sure they wear a hat because a lot of body heat is lost through the head.
- Keep their ears covered at all times to prevent frostbite.
- Have them wear mittens instead of gloves so that fingers can be bunched together for warmth.
- Make sure they have warm, waterproof boots that are roomy enough so they can wear an extra pair of socks.
- Remove drawstrings from clothing that could catch on climbing or other play equipment. Use velcro or other snaps instead.
- To prevent choking, use a neck warmer instead of a scarf and mitten clips instead of strings.
- Remove wet clothing and boots immediately when they are finished playing.
Rules of safety
- Stay away from snowplows and snow blowers. Choose play areas away from roads, fences and water.
- Take extra caution when crossing roads because it might be difficult for drivers to see children through snowy or frosty windshields.
- Snowballs should never be aimed at people or cars. They are especially dangerous when the snow is hard-packed or icy. Instead, throw snowballs at safe targets, like trees or telephone polls.
- Building forts and tunnels can be fun, but this activity should always be supervised by an adult. Forts and tunnels can collapse and suffocate you.
- Do not play on roadside snow banks. The driver of a snowplow or other vehicle may not see a child.
- Do not put metal objects in your mouth; lips and tongues can freeze to the metal and cause an injury.
- Don’t eat snow; it can be dirty.
- Children under 5 should never go down a hill alone.
- Always wear a ski or hockey helmet – not a bicycle helmet – they are only tested up to -10ºC (14ºF) and need to be replaced after one crash. If you use a hockey helmet, make sure it meets the criteria set by Canadian Standards Association.
- Never use a sled with sharp or jagged edges. Handholds should be secure.
- Use a sled that you can steer, rather than a snow disk or inner tube. It will provide better control.
- Always sit up or kneel on a sled. Lying down can increase the risk of injury to the head, spine and stomach.
- Never sled on or near roadways. Look for shallow slopes that are free of trees, fences or other obstacles.
- Avoid sledding on crowded slopes.
- Sled during the day. If you sled at night, make sure the hill is well lit.
- Slide down the centre of the hill and climb up along the sides.
- Remember to watch out for other sledders and move out of the way quickly once at the bottom of the hill.
- Always wear a properly fitted, CSA approved hockey helmet when skating.
- Skates should be comfortable, with good ankle support to avoid twists, sprains or breaks.
- Whenever possible, skate on public indoor or outdoor rinks. Teach your child to obey all signs posted on or near the ice. Yellow signs usually mean skate with caution, and red usually means no skating allowed.
- Always supervise children on the ice.
- Never assume that it’s safe to skate on a lake or pond. An adult should make sure the ice is at least 10 cm (4”) thick for skating alone or 20 cm (8”) for skating parties or games. Never walk on ice near moving water. Ice formed on moving water, such as rivers and creeks, may not be thick enough to be safe.
- Have your child take lessons from a qualified instructor.
- Check equipment every year to be sure it still fits and is in good condition, and have a qualified technician look at the bindings.
- Wearing a helmet with side vents allows children to hear what is going on around them.
- Wear wrist guards when snowboarding to reduce the risk of injury.
- Wear goggles to protect eyes from bright sunlight and objects like tree branches.
- Never ski or snowboard alone.
- Make sure your child doesn’t go too fast; many injuries happen when a person loses control.
- Avoid icy hills. The risk of falls and injuries increases in icy conditions.
- Watch out for other skiers and snowboarders, as well as any other obstacle, on the slopes.
- Stay in open ski areas and on marked trails.
Dr. Denis Leduc is a general paediatrician in the Montreal area. He is a Past President of the Canadian Paediatric Society. For more information on your child’s growth and development, visit www.caringforkids.cps.ca or www.soinsdenosenfants.cps.ca, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/caringforkids.cps.ca and on Twitter @CaringforKids or @soinsenfants.