Winter time ushers in cold weather along with the dreaded cold and flu season. Parents often worry about children getting sick or injured while playing outside in the cold and by being exposed to the germs that seem to run rampant this time of year.

Here are some tips for keeping your child healthy and safe when old man winter settles in for a seasonal visit.

Dress Appropriately

While kids may protest about being bundled in heavy coats and boots, these items are essential for any type of winter outdoor play or activity.

Wearing several thin layers with a winter coat is probably the most comfortable and should keep them warm and dry. Always include a hat, mittens or gloves and snow boots. Thermal gloves or mittens are waterproof and will keep hands drier.

Limit Play Time According to Temperature

The windchill factor plays an important role in whether it’s safe to play outside and for how long. According to, 30 degrees F and higher is the safest play temperature for 40 minute intervals with indoor breaks. For 20-30 degrees F, exercise caution and take indoor breaks every 20 to 30 minutes and if it’s below 20 degrees stay inside.

You want to avoid dangerous overexposure to the cold by underdressing or kids getting wet in the cold which can lead to hypothermia and frostbite. Check children frequently for signs of shivering accompanied by lethargy, clumsiness and slurred speech. These signs can indicate hypothermia and if you suspect it, call 911.

Likewise, complaints of numb and burning skin or pale, gray and blistered skin on fingers, toes, ears and nose can indicate frostbite. If it occurs, put frostbitten areas in warm (not hot) water.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 104 degree F water and using warm washcloths on a frostbitten nose, ears or lips. They also advise not to rub frozen areas and drying and covering the child with clothing or blankets and giving a warm drink.

Proper Hygiene

Bathing children regularly promotes good health, as does frequent, proper hand washing. Cold weather doesn’t spread germs. However, being in school close to other coughing, sneezing children will expose them. 

Teach kids to sneeze into the inside of their bent elbow and demonstrate proper hand-washing techniques by doing your own first and then watch them wash theirs and advise them what they’re doing right and wrong.

Proper washing includes using warm water and scrubbing all of the surfaces of your hands including your wrists, palms, between your fingers, the tops of your hands and fingers and underneath your fingernails for at least 20 seconds. Using alcohol-based hand sanitizer is fine when soap and water isn’t available.

The Flu Shot

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that each year, an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized due to influenza complications. So, they recommend everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine.  Talk with your child’s pediatrician to answer any questions or concerns you have about the shot or to schedule an appointment to get one.

Winter Sports Safety

Kids of all ages love winter sports and staying active over the winter is another way to promote good health. However, make sure your kids use proper precautions while participating.

First of all, dress warmly for any outdoor winter sport, as detailed above. Be sure they wear proper safety equipment, including a winter sports helmet for almost any sport including ice skating, skiing, snowboarding and sledding. Elbow and knee pads are also recommended for ice skating.

Sports like skiing and snowboarding should be taught by a qualified kid’s instructor. Doing a quick Google search should pull up some names of qualified instructors in your area. Adults should always supervise young children in any winter sport and ice should be approved for skating.  Look for posted signs or contact the police to see which areas are approved.

Furthermore, any winter sports equipment should properly fit your child and adult supervision should coincide with your child’s age, skill and maturity.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 16 not operate snowmobiles and that children under age 6 never ride on snowmobiles.  They also advise traveling at safe speeds, never alone, with a proper helmet and safety googles.

Note:  These are just general guidelines. If you’re unsure of safety requirements for a specific winter sport, contact a qualified instructor, conduct a Google search for safety tips on the appropriate sport, consult books at the local library or try a sporting goods safety equipment retailer.

Fire Protection

House fires from heaters, fireplaces, Christmas lights, candles and other flammable items happen during the winter. Therefore, make sure the batteries in your smoke alarms are working and have them installed throughout your hand install a carbon monoxide detector. Also have a household fire extinguisher and get familiar with how to use it.

Most importantly, have an evacuation plan in place in case of a fire and practice fire drills frequently.

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