"While winter activities provide children with amusement during the colder months, they can also be life-threatening," says Beth Washington of Safe Kids Tulsa. "Parents and caregivers should keep a watchful eye on winter play, limit outdoor playtime when temperatures are frigid and be sure their children dress appropriately for the winter."
Safe Kids Tulsa Area recommends the following suggestions to help keep your children safe:
Most parents associate drowning with summer months, but the increased use of hot tubs and whirlpools, as well as the danger of hidden bodies of water or weak ice make winter drownings a risk as well. To reduce the risk of drowning, parents and caregivers should:
- Supervise children in or near a pool, hot tub or any body of water.
- Beware of children overheating in hot tubs and whirlpools
- Make sure pools and spas are secure. If you have a pool or spa, install four-sided isolation fencing that is at least five feet high. The fence should have a self-closing and self-latching gate. Do not use the exterior of the house as one side of the fence.
- Allow children to skate only on ponds or lakes that have been approved for skating.
Exposure to cold without the adequate protection can result in frostbite. Parents can protect their children by following these precautions:
- Dress children warmly. Several thin layers will help children dry as well as warm. Clothing should consist of thermal long johns, turtlenecks, one or two shirts, pants, sweater, coat, warm socks, boots, gloves or mittens, and a hat.
- Set reasonable time limits on outdoor play. Call children in periodically to warm up with drinks such as hot chocolate.
- When possible, avoid taking infants outdoors when it is colder than 40F. Infants lose body heat quickly.
If a child complains of numbness or pain in the fingers, toes, nose, cheeks or ears while playing in the snow, or if his skin is blistered, hard to the touch or glossy, be alerted to the possibility of frostbite and take the following steps:
- Take the child indoors.
- Call a doctor.
- Tell the child to wiggle the affected body part(s) to increase blood supply to that area.
- Warm the frozen part(s) against the body. Hold fingers to the chest, for example.
- Immerse frozen part(s) in warm, not hot, water. Frozen tissue is fragile and can be damaged easily. Avoid warming with high heat from radiators, fireplaces or stoves, and avoid rubbing or breaking blisters.
- Slippery driveways and sidewalks can be particularly hazardous in the winter. Keep them well shoveled, and apply material such as rock salt or sand to improve traction.
- Make sure that children under age 10 do not cross streets alone, and make sure children wear appropriate shoes and brightly colored (not white) clothing while walking in snowy conditions. Use retroreflective clothing or stickers for maximum protection, especially at dawn and dusk.
Winter Sports and Activities
The cold weather during the holidays does little to keep winter sports enthusiasts inside -- especially children. In fact, children ages 14 and under are at a high risk for winter sports injuries. In 2007, there were 17,000 estimated injuries among children from skiing and snowboarding; 24,500 estimated injuries from sledding; and 1,500 estimated injuries from snowmobiles and other equipment.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, ski helmets could prevent or reduce the effects of 50 percent of head injuries suffered by children under 15 while skiing or snowboarding. "Kid should always wear helmets when they ski, sled, snowboard or play ice hockey," says Beth Washington, Safe Kids Tulsa coordinator. "But, parents should know there are different helmets for different activities. Make sure your child's helmet meets federal safety standards, and have an expert check that the helmet fits correctly so it won't come loose at a critical moment."
Along with wearing a helmet while skiing or snowboarding, parents should know these ten useful tips to keep their children safe when doing outdoor activities this winter:
- Kids can suffer serious head injuries from sledding, and should always wear a helmet. When sledding, do not go down a hill head-first. Sit up, face forward, use a clear, safe path and make sure an adult is supervising.
- A good sledding hill does not lead to a street, a body of water or a crowded gathering place. In addition, remember to inspect sleds regularly for worn, damaged or loose parts that could break or snag at high speed.
- Children under six should not be riding a snowmobile and no one under 16 should drive one. All snowmobile drivers and passengers should be wearing helmets designed for high-speed motor sports - a bike helmet isn't sufficient for a four-wheeled motorcycle that can go up to 90 miles per hour.
Ice Skating and Hockey
- There is no consensus among experts about the need for helmets while ice skating, but parents should consider them for kids who are just beginning to learn to skate.
- Helmets are a must for ice hockey, along with mouth guards, knee pads and elbow, shoulder and shin protection.
- Teach kids how to protect themselves if they do fall through ice. Remind them to stretch their arms out wide and kick as if swimming, shout for help, and try to crawl backward onto solid ice.
- Always wear sport-specific, properly fitting safety gear when participating in winter sports activities. Since proper equipment fit and maintenance are important for safety, bring your child along when shopping for skates, helmets, boots, etc.
- Dress in layers and wear warm, close-fitting clothes. Make sure that long scarves are tucked in so they don't get entangled in lifts, ski poles or other equipment.
- Stay hydrated and wear sunscreen with a rating of SPF 15 or higher.
- If children become distracted, irritable, or begins to hyperventilate, they may be suffering from hypothermia or altitude sickness, or are too tired to participate safely in winter sports. They should go indoors, rest and warm up.
"Remember, your children learn safety habits by watching you," adds Beth Washington. "So parents should always wear the right helmet for their winter activities too."
More safety sites
You can refer to the following sites for more childhood injury prevention all year long:
National Safe Kids Campaign
American Academy of Pediatrics (TIPP: The Injury Prevention Program)
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control