Warm and Safe Winter Kids
We have started this winter season with some big storms already. Some of us meet the winter with anxious anticipation; others with a sense of foreboding. Either way, as Mainers, we learn to adjust our lives to the long, cold, snowy winters of Northern New England. In the sports world, hockey players, skiers and snowboarders are dusting off the skates, boards and skis and tuning the edges. So, for children heading out into the Maine winter for sporting and recreational activities, this season presents challenges as we try to keep them safe and warm. Here are some simple ideas to think about as your children gear up for winter.
Avoid Hypothermia. Hypothermia happens when your body temperature is less than 95 degrees, and it happens more quickly in children than adults. Hypothermia can be prevented, so it is important to protect kids from getting too cold with the right clothing. Layering is the best way to keep your child warm. Bottom layers should be synthetics or wool, as they stay warm when damp better than cotton. Then put on a mid-layer, again, of wool or a synthetic fiber (NO cotton). Finally, it’s important to add a waterproof or water-resistant outer layer, especially if they’ll be on the snow or ice for any amount of time, or rain or snow is expected. We lose a lot of our heat through our head, so wearing a winter hat is very important, too.
Cover Up to Prevent Frostbite. Cover all exposed skin, even places you may not usually think to cover, especially if the temperature is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind is blowing more than 20 miles per hour. A scarf to cover the face and good, warm waterproof mittens should be part of any kid's standard winter outfit. Mittens provide better protection than gloves against cold. Frostbite happens when skin freezes and the tissue underneath can become damaged. Frostbite can happen even if skin is covered by gloves or other clothing. Because skin becomes numb when it gets cold, kids may not know they have exposed areas which could become frostbitten. Make sure to regularly check your kids on cold weather days to make sure their fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chins are covered. Early signs of frostbite include red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin, prickling and numbness. To safely rewarm cold and tender fingers, or toes, do not rub the skin and try soaking cold hands or feet in warm (not hot) water. Call your doctor if the numbness or pain continues even after 15 minutes of warming or if the skin develops blisters.
The National Weather Service offers this helpful windchill-frostbite chart which can help parents figure out when it is too cold for kids to play outside: www.nws.noaa.gov/om/cold/wind_chill.shtml. There are no strict guidelines for when it is too cold to play outdoors, but as the temperature drops below freezing, check on your kids often, bring them in for “warm up” breaks often, and use your best judgment on when it is just too cold! Once kids come back inside, getting them out of their wet clothes as soon as possible to help them warm up much more quickly.
Sledding Though it may seem like harmless fun, thousands of kids and teens visit hospital emergency rooms each year with sledding-related injuries. Help keep kids safe by teaching them to:
- Go with an adult.
- Always wear a helmet to prevent head injuries (this can be a bicycle helmet or a multi-sport helmet).
- Avoid sledding in areas with trees, fences, light poles, or rocky hills.
- Always go feet first down the hill.
- Learn how to stop or turn the sled by using your feet.
- Do not sled on a street or highway and never ride on a sled being pulled by a car, ATV, or snowmobile.
- Avoid sledding on driveways, hills, or slopes that end by a street, drop off area, parking lot, river or pond.
- Only use tubes at specialized tubing parks because they can be harder to steer.
Skiing and snowboarding Helmets have become the norm on the ski hill because they do a great job protecting against bumps, bruises, and concussions. Start kids off with helmets from their first time out on the slopes and set a good example by wearing a helmet yourself. Helmets also help to keep heads and ears warmer than just hats. Goggles are also helpful, not only for eye protection, but for warmth as well. For older children going into the terrain park and/or building jumps, wrist guards may be a good idea, especially for snowboarders due to the way they fall. For all snow sports, it is important to have your bindings checked routinely. Most ski shops will do this for a nominal fee. If your family is anything like my family, the kids’ skis, boots and bindings are handed down multiple times. It’s important to make sure bindings are set appropriately and safely each time the equipment goes to a new person. This helps prevent knee and leg injuries. For beginning snowboarders and skiers, lessons are a great way to ensure your kids have fun and stay safe.
Ice-skating, hockey and ice fishing. Ice-skating and hockey present their own challenges. Using protective gear, especially helmets, will help keep kids injury-free. Full face guards and mouth guards are mandatory for children who play hockey. Everyone who skates or who is ice fishing should be especially cautious around frozen bodies of water. Sometimes a pond or lake that looks solidly frozen is not, or is solidly frozen only in some places. Parents should check with local police or recreation departments about which ponds are safe to go out on.
Snowmobiling Snowmobiling is a classic Maine winter pastime. Done correctly it can be safe and thrilling. For families with snowmobiles, Maine has regulations for children. Everyone under 18 years old must wear a helmet. You must be 10 years old or older to operate a snowmobile, and must be 14 or older to cross a roadway with a snowmobile. The American Academy of Pediatrics has put out their own recommendations. They advise that children under 16 should not drive snowmobiles and that children under 6 should not ride on snowmobiles. For the full Maine laws and regulations regarding snowmobiles visit: www.maine.gov/ifw/atv-snowmobile/snowmobile/laws-rules.html.
Winter is one of the reasons many of us love living in Maine. Keeping your kids dry, safe and warm during this season will ensure they have fun during their winter activities, and give them the same appreciation for winter that many of us have.
The health educators at the Learning Resource Center are happy to help. They provide trusted & reliable health information and connect people to local resources in the community. Connect with a health educator today! Be well, be well informed.