Play It Safe This Winter

Winter gives Boston-area families endless opportunities for playing outdoors, but it’s important to use caution to avoid common winter safety hazards.


Dress children warmly in thin, waterproof layers of clothing. Waterproof boots made for slippery conditions prevent falls. Gloves and hats are ideal for head and ear protection. Opt for neck garters or turtlenecks rather than scarves. Avoid taking out infants in very cold temperatures.


Remove blankets and jackets before putting infants and children in car seats as the extra space between the child and the harness poses a safety threat in the event of a motor vehicle accident.  


Sunscreen isn’t just for summer! Apply it to kids’ faces when they are outdoors as snow reflects harmful rays from the sun.


Keep curious kids away from snow blowers and snow throwers.


Supervise children playing outside. While kids should be encouraged to play outside in winter (during daylight hours and as long as the temperature is reasonable), they will not know when it is too cold for them. Take them indoors periodically to warm up.


Avoid hypothermia, which means an abnormally low body temperature. This happens very quickly in children. Symptoms include shivering, slurred speech, lethargy, pale and cold skin, confusion and slowed breathing. In infants, symptoms include bright red and cold skin and lethargy.

Call 911 immediately if you notice these symptoms and attempt to warm the child up by removing wet clothing and placing it with warm clothing on the trunk, groin, neck and head. To avoid shock, never place the child in warm water or apply direct heat. 

Avoid frostbite, which means the freezing of skin or outer tissue, most commonly in the extremities, such as fingers and toes. Symptoms of frostbite are white patches, and the skin may be pale, grey or blistered, but the most obvious symptom is children complaining that their fingers are burning or numb.

Place the affected part of the body in warm (not hot) water and avoid rubbing the area. Seek medical attention if the child still feels numb after several minutes of warming. 

Check sledding hills.
 Make sure they are free of trees, tree roots and fences, and that they are far from busy roads, not too crowded, well lit, well covered in snow, have a flat runoff and are not too steep. Also check the sled to make sure it has no sharp edges or cracks and that the child can steer it. Avoid snow disks or tubes. Have children wear a multi-sport or winter helmet when sledding and have them sit up and go down the hill feet first to avoid head collisions.  

While ice skating, 
children should also wear a multi-sport or winter helmet. They should skate on public or private rinks, and not other places. Consider wearing wrist, elbow and kneepads to prevent sprains. Teach them to skate in the same direction as the crowd.  

For skiing and snowboarding, 
wear properly fitted and intact equipment that includes a form of eye protection and a winter helmet. Kids should be taught by a qualified instructor and on slopes that are age- and skill-level appropriate. 

Children under age 16 should never operate snowmobiles. Children under age 5 should never ride a snowmobile, even with an adult operating it. Always ride in pairs and stay on approved trails. 

Use caution indoors.
 The improper use of electric space heaters is a leading cause of wintertime home fires. They should never be left unattended. Always place them on flat, non-combustible, non-carpeted surfaces and at least three feet from anything flammable. Never use them where children play or sleep.

Keep children away from wood stoves and fireplaces – even those with glass or screens because these can become hot enough to burn skin. Keep fireplaces clean and have them inspected annually to avoid chimney fires. If you use a hot steam vaporizer, keep it out of reach of children. 


Rebekah Coelho is an injury prevention specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital Trauma Center. 617-355-7332

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18 Dec 2014

By Rebekah Coelho