MomTalks • Nov 14, 2023

How to Keep Your Kids Warm and Prevent Injuries This Winter

These simple tips can help keep your children safe while sledding, snowboarding and skiing this season. Plus, how to spot the signs of frostnip, frostbite and hypothermia — and what to do if you suspect your kids have them.

How cold is too cold for your child to play outside? Find answers to your questions about cold-related dangers such as hypothermia and frostbite from Jamie Kondis, MD, a Washington University pediatric emergency medicine physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Also, learn about ways you can minimize the risk of a fall, for you and your child, when it’s icy outside.

How to Dress Your Children for the Cold and Snow

  • Remember that children can’t regulate their body temperature as well as adults. If it’s below -15 degrees windchill, kids shouldn’t be outside, even for short periods of time.
  • Wet conditions, rather than dry cold, pose more of a threat for getting a cold-weather injury. Water and wet clothes can cause frostbite and hypothermia to develop faster.
  • Dress children in loose layers, which can be removed more easily if they get wet. A good rule of thumb is to dress children in one more layer than adults. Any bulky clothing or coats should be removed before placing your child in a car seat as well.
  • Make sure your children’s fingers, toes, cheeks, ears and the tops of their heads are covered. Smaller appendages at the ends of their limbs, such as fingers, are at risk of frostbite, and kids lose heat through their heads.

What to Do if You Think Your Child Has Frostbite or Hypothermia

  • The most common stage of frostbite is a mild condition called frostnip. Appendages will look red and feel tingly. If you can safely rewarm your child, you shouldn’t need to visit the emergency department. Dip the affected area in warm water (around 104 degrees) or use a warm wet washcloth to apply heat. Water is key — using a heating pad can be too hot and burn children. Giving children something warm to drink will help as well.
  • Later stages of frostbite, where skin looks either gray and blistered or hard and white, require an emergency department visit. Treat frostbite like you would a burn and don’t rub it to try and warm up. This could cause more damage to the skin.
  • Hypothermia happens when your body temperature dips below 95 degrees. Symptoms include shivering, slurred speech and lethargy. If your child has been out in the cold and you suspect they’re experiencing symptoms of hypothermia, remove any wet clothing, replace it with warm clothing, give them something warm to drink, and bring them to the emergency department or call 9-1-1. St. Louis Children’s Hospital has six pediatric E.R. locations across the St. Louis and southern Illinois region. These include St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital at Memorial Hospital Belleville, Children’s Hospital at Memorial Hospital Shiloh, Children’s Hospital at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, Children’s Hospital at Northwest HealthCare and Children’s Hospital at Progress West Hospital.

Tips for Staying Healthy While Playing in the Snow

  • Don’t skip the sunscreen just because it’s winter. Sunlight can reflect off snow and cause a sunburn. If you’re going to be out all day skiing or snowboarding, make sure you apply sunblock to exposed skin.
  • If your kiddo goes sledding, a helmet can protect them from a serious injury during a crash. Ask them to sit on the sled rather than lying on their stomach and going down head-first. Pick a toboggan-type sled that they can steer rather than a saucer or innertube they can’t, and make sure your hill is far from car traffic.
  • Whether they’re sledding, snowboarding or ice-skating, never let your children go alone.
  • It’s tempting to carry your child across an icy surface to prevent a fall, but if you end up slipping and dropping your child, it can cause a more severe injury than if they had fallen from their own height.

Find more MomDocs safety tips here.