Getting outside for play is important for children for mental stimulation, exercise and eye breaks from devices — moreso now that many students aren’t in school for P.E. class or team sports.
But as temperatures plummet in many parts of the country, it’s natural to be concerned about whether it’s fine for them to go sledding or build a big snowman in the yard.
Your kids still can play outside when it’s cold as long as they are properly bundled up and you limit their time when temperatures drop below freezing.
Keep in mind that wind chill is also a factor. If it’s dangerously cold out, it’s better for them to stay indoors.
They should also take frequent breaks to come inside to warm up and stay hydrated.
Follow these tips when dressing your child for cold and snowy weather:
Dress little ones warmly
Start with two or three thin layers to keep them dry and warm. Avoid 100% cotton as a base layer, because it absorbs sweat and holds it next to the skin. Always remember gloves or mittens, a hat and warm waterproof boots.
Down and down alternative or synthetic insulation jackets and snow pants insulate the body, and many coats provide warmth without bulkiness, making play easier.
Make sure feet are kept dry
Wool or wool-blend socks are superior to cotton, because wool can wick away sweat and still insulate properly. Cotton soaks up sweat, loses its insulation, and can become sodden.
Layer up, then add one more
The rule of thumb for kids outerwear is to use one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions.
Account for coat bulk on car rides
Remove your child’s heavy coat or snowsuit before strapping them into a car seat or securing the seatbelt. Thin, snug layers ensure they are strapped in tight enough. In a crash, puffy coats can flatten, and the child could slip out and be thrown around the vehicle.
Mask up for play dates
If children will be playing with people from outside their household, don't forget their mask or face covering (except for children under 2 years old), especially if they are unable to stay at least 6 feet apart.
Keep in mind that if a child is sick (fever, cough, or other symptoms), they shouldn’t play with anyone outside of their own household.
Bundle the kids up and set them loose in the snow. A little outdoor activity is also good for parents, so get out there with them and get into an epic snowball fight!
Watch out for frostbite
Frostbite happens when the skin and outer tissues become frozen. It tends to happen on extremities like the fingers, toes, ears and nose. Keep abreast of the signs and follow these tips for treating it:
- The skin may become pale, gray and blistered, and may feel like it’s burning or has become numb.
- If frostbite occurs, place the frostbitten body parts in warm (not hot) water. Warm washcloths may be applied to a frostbitten nose, ears and lips.
- Do not rub the frozen areas.
- After a few minutes, dry the area and cover up with clothing or blankets. Drink something warm.
- If numbness continues for more than a few minutes, call your doctor.
Know the signs of hypothermia
Hypothermia develops when the body’s temperature falls below normal due to cold exposure, and often happens when outside in extremely cold weather without proper clothing, or when clothes get wet. It can occur more quickly in children than in adults.
As hypothermia sets in, you may shiver and become lethargic and clumsy. Speech may become slurred and body temperature will decline in more severe cases.
If you suspect you or your child is hypothermic, call 911 at once. Until help arrives, take shelter indoors, remove wet clothing and wrap up in blankets or warm clothes.
Stephanie Griese is a pediatrician with experience in urgent care, emergency medicine and public health. She serves as a clinical consultant for the Virginia Department of Health's COVID-19 response.
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