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How to Stay Safe During Outside Winter Play

January 18, 2017 | Dr. Mary Williams, RN, DC | Comments

I've been getting a lot of questions both here and at my office from concerned parents wanting to keep their kids safe when playing outside during the winter months. After all, there's only so much time you can keep them inside before both you and your kids start to go a little crazy. Luckily, with a little bit of knowledge, you can let the kids play outside without fear. I've collected a few of the most common questions and provided the answers for you below.

How cold is too cold? How do I determine if it's too cold to play outside?

Generally, the accepted range is 40 degrees to 20 degrees. Keep in mind that once the temperature is 30-20 degrees, you need to monitor your child for signs that they are getting too cold. You also want to limit the time they are outside once the temperature dips to 30 to no more than an hour or two with you checking on them regularly. While temperature might be the only thing most parents think of, wind chill is definitely a factor in determining if it's too cold out. If the outside temperature is in the 20s but there's a wind chill of zero to 15 degrees, it's going to feel a lot colder and the risk for cold-related skin and body temperature issues goes up significantly.

If we get stuck outside for an extended period of time in sleet/snow, how can I protect my child?

The best way to protect your child is to be prepared before you leave your home; make sure you always dress your child in layers with moisture-wicking underclothes, outer heat-retaining layers, and good-quality socks and boots. Avoid walking your child through puddles or big piles of slush; keep your head and your child's head covered with hats or an umbrella to help retain body heat. Try to stay out of the wind; if there are big buildings or trees nearby to help protect you from wind, head toward them until you can get indoors. Keep your kids moving to help keep them generating heat. Bringing a container of hot cocoa is also a great preventative step to help keep everyone warm when outside for a long period of time.

What can I do if my child has skin exposed that is in danger of getting too cold?

Kids lose mittens, hats, gloves, and scarves like it's their mission, especially when playing outside. Once that skin is exposed, children can be at risk for frostbite. If you notice your kids missing some outside gear, ask them if they can feel and move that body part. If they say no, head inside right away, even if they say they're fine. If they've been outside for a while, don't take a chance: Have them come in and warm up, and tell them they can go back out in a little bit if possible. Once inside, have the child wiggle the body part as much as they can and have them hold the body part against another area of their body that's warm (if possible). NEVER stick an area that may be frostbitten or close to it in hot water. You can put the area in warm water; just make sure it's not too hot.

How do I treat frostbite?

Frostbite results from overexposure to cold wind, liquids, gases or surfaces. It most often occurs on the fingers, toes, nose, and ears. Applying proper first aid for frostbite can help lessen the damage it causes. Here are some symptoms and actions you can take if you suspect a person has frostbite.

Symptoms include:

  • White, waxy or greyish-yellow skin.
  • Hard, numb and cold skin.
  • Skin that does not respond with capillary refill when touched.

Actions to take:

  • Move the person to a warm area.
  • Call for emergency response.
  • Remove tight clothing and jewelry from the affected body part.
  • If necessary, remove wet clothing and cover the person with warm, dry clothing and blankets.
  • Provide warm fluids and food for them to drink and eat.
  • Protect frostbitten areas from further damage.
  • Handle with care; the tissue is very fragile.

Are there any safety tips I should keep in mind when playing in the snow with my child?

If you do engage in snowball fights with your child, make sure that the snow does not have any ice in it, as this can be the equivalent of hurling a rock at your child. Similarly, packing the snow too tight or aiming for anywhere above the neck is definitely not safe. Have a "no face, no head" penalty and make sure you enforce it with your child (or children) to make sure no one lobs anything at a sensitive body part like an eye, ear, or nose.

Should I allow my child to eat snow?

Snow is basically frozen water that falls from the sky, meaning it's relatively harmless. If your child catches a few snowflakes on their tongue, it's not a big deal. Just keep in mind that snow does contain air pollution particulates as well, so eating large quantities of snow is probably not the best idea. Also, eating snow that's on the ground (especially in busy walking areas), gray or black roadside snow, or the infamous yellow snow are all obvious no-nos.

 


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