By Barbara Williams of www.findababysitter.org
With rising childhood obesity rates and the increasing illnesses that accompany a sedentary lifestyle, it’s no secret that kids should be encouraged to get outside and engage in active play. As the lower temperatures approach, so does cold and flu season, which can be greatly exacerbated when kids are held indoors where germs can easily be spread through respiratory droplets and exhalations. Keeping kids safe while they’re out in the cold, however, is an absolute necessity. The following guidelines can help you ensure that your kids’ activity levels don’t suffer at the onset of winter and that they stay safe until the spring thaw rolls around.
- Use Sunscreen – Protecting kids’ skin from the damaging rays of the sun is a major priority for most parents and caregivers during the summer months, but one that often falls to the wayside when temperatures cool down. In fact, the reflection of the sun off of snow and ice can be almost as damaging as direct exposure. Make sure that your youngsters are slathered with sunscreen before they hit the outdoors. Another tip is to protect their eyes with sunglasses that have UV protection. Glare from snow, and other bright winter backgrounds can damage their eyes the same as in warm weather.
- Waterproof Clothing is Key – Keeping kids warm during the winter chill relies heavily upon your ability to keep them dry. Melting ice and snow can leave most fabrics wet, soggy and very cold. Make sure that you invest in some waterproof or water-resistant clothing and shoes, especially proper boots.
- Know the Signs of Frostbite – Frostbite occurs when your child’s skin or extremities are literally frozen. The nose, ears, fingers, cheeks and toes are most commonly affected, and it can be quite dangerous when these extremities suffer from frostbite. Signs of superficial frostbite include itching, numbness, tingling or burning sensations. The affected skin may become white, flushed, yellow or blue and appear frozen, and will be cold to the touch.
- Dress for Success – Just because your kids are bundled against the cold doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re wearing safe clothing. Hoods and hats don’t take the place of helmets for activities like biking or skating, while tight clothing that restricts movement can present a danger as it inhibits kids’ ability to move and balance properly. Be sure that your brood is dressed appropriately for outdoor play, not just for cold temperatures.
- Insist on Warm-Up Breaks – When kids are enjoying themselves and are particularly absorbed in an activity, it’s easy for them to lose track of time. That’s why it’s important for you to insist on periodic warm-up breaks to check for signs of hypothermia or frostbite and ensure that they don’t get too cold.
- Keep Ice Skating Safe – Ice skating is a beloved, time-honored cold-weather outdoor activity. It can also be quite dangerous, though. Public areas designated for ice skating are far safer than ponds or bodies of water on your own property, which may not be thoroughly frozen and could crack under kids’ weight. Be sure that any ice your children are going to skate on is frozen solid, and that they’re wearing the right protective gear.
- Smart Sledding – Racing down a snow-covered hill on a sled is one of life’s great thrills, even for adults. Kids love sledding, but it’s important that they understand the basic safety rules before setting out. Sledding down hills that terminate near a road, down paths that have obstacles like jumps, rocks or bumps, or down icy slopes are all sledding safety no-nos. Kids should also never be pulled on sleds behind moving vehicles of any kind.
- Don’t Forget About Dehydration – Dehydration isn’t a concern reserved solely for warm-weather months. While your children are enjoying a session of outdoor play, be sure that they’re taking in plenty of fluids.
- Scarf Safety – Scarves are useful tools for protecting against the cold, as they can be wrapped around almost any part of the body that feels cold. However, they can also become ensnared in moving parts of toys or overhanging branches, closed in doors, or otherwise tangled in a manner that presents a strangulation risk. It’s better to opt for cowl-style scarves until kids are a bit older and less rambunctious.
- Double-Check Equipment – Making sure that any equipment for outdoor play, whether new or old, is in good condition, fits properly and is otherwise suitable for use before sending kids outside with it. Damaged or broken equipment can very easily cause injuries, especially if kids are using them improperly to compensate for the damage.
While outdoor play is important and can help to stave off cold-weather ailments, like the flu or the common cold, it’s important to understand that there are times when it’s simply too cold for your brood to safely be outside. Extreme temperatures can be very dangerous, causing a child’s body to lose heat faster than it can be generated. The end result is hypothermia, which can be life-threatening.