Winter Safety: Advice for parents and kids

Winter is an exciting time for kids. It brings great outdoor activities, such as snowboarding and skating, but also cold weather, ice and snow, which can present a danger to children. But that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the winter. Here are some winter safety tips for both parents and children.

In general:

    * Never allow children to play outside alone. Establish a buddy system with one or more of their friends and have them look out for one another. Children younger than eight years of age should always be well supervised outside.
    * Check from time to time to make sure children are warm and dry.
    * Have younger children take frequent breaks to come inside for a warm drink.
    * Never send children outside in extreme weather conditions such as snowstorms.
    * Keep children indoors if the temperature falls below –25°C, or if the wind chill is–28°C or greater.
    * Tell children not to put their tongues on cold metal. It may sound silly, but some kids still do it.
    * Advise children to stay away from snowplows and snowblowers.
    * Help children choose play areas with a warm shelter nearby such as a friend’s home.
    * Advise children to play in an area away from roads, fences and water.
    * Apply sunscreen to exposed skin, even when it’s cloudy.


    * Dress children in several layers of clothing. If they get too warm, they can remove one layer at a time.
    * Always remove children’s wet clothing and boots immediately.
    * Make sure children wear a hat because most body heat is lost through the head.
    * Have children keep their ears covered at all times to prevent frostbite.
    * Have children wear mittens instead of gloves.
    * Dress children in warm, waterproof boots that are roomy enough to wiggle their toes around.
    * Remove all drawstrings from children’s clothing to prevent strangulation. Use Velcro or other fasteners instead, and use a neck warmer instead of a scarf.


    * Make sure children always wear a hockey or ski helmet while skating.
    * Make sure children’s skates are comfortable, with good ankle support, to avoid twists, sprains or breaks.
    * When possible, have children skate on public indoor or outdoor rinks. If this is not possible, children should remember to:

   1. Obey all signs posted on or near the ice. Yellow signs usually mean skate with caution, and red usually means no skating allowed.
   2. Make sure they are always supervised on the ice.
   3. Never assume it’s safe to skate on a lake or pond. An adult should make sure the ice is at least 10 cm (four inches) thick, and check with local weather authorities for information about ice thickness.
   4. Avoid walking on ice near moving water. Ice formed on moving water, such as rivers and creeks, will vary in thickness and is highly unpredictable.


Children should:

    * Take lessons from a qualified skiing or snowboarding instructor.
    * Never ski or snowboard alone.
    * With parents, check equipment every year for fit and maintenance. Bindings should be checked annually by a qualified technician.
    * Make sure they’re in control of their speed. Many injuries result from a loss of control. Stunts and fatigue also lead to injuries.
    * Always wear a helmet with side vents that allow them to hear.
    * When snowboarding, wear wrist guards to reduce the risk of wrist injury.
    * Dress safely. Wear brightly-coloured clothing, and warm hats and mittens.
    * Avoid icy hills. The risk of falls and injuries increases in icy conditions.
    * Watch out for other skiers and snowboarders, as well as any other obstacles, on the slopes.
    * Stay in designated areas and on marked trails.

* With lessons from a certified instructor, it's okay for younger children to snowboard; however, their coordination is not fully developed until age 10 years. Reference: Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors


Children should:

    * Always wear either a ski or hockey helmet – not a bicycle helmet – while sledding.
    * Never use a sled with sharp or jagged edges.
    * Make sure the handholds on the sled are secure.
    * Always sit up or kneel on a sled. Lying down increases the risk of head, spine and abdominal injuries.
    * Never sled on or near roadways.
    * Look for shallow slopes that are free of trees, fences or any other obstacles.
    * Avoid sledding on crowded slopes.

Snow forts and snow banks:

Children should NOT:

    * Build snow forts or make tunnels. They may collapse and suffocate a child.
    * Play in or on snow banks. The driver of a snowplow or other vehicle may not see a child.


Children should NOT throw snowballs. Snowball fights can lead to injuries, especially to the eyes. Snowballs are more dangerous if the snow is hard-packed or contains a rock or some other hard object.


    * Children and adults should wear an approved helmet at all times. Head injuries are the leading cause of snowmobile-related deaths.
    * Children younger than five years of age should never ride on a snowmobile, even with an adult.
    * Children younger than 16 years of age should not operate a snowmobile.
    * Anyone operating a snowmobile should take a formal safety training program.
    * Never tow a child behind a snowmobile on a tube, tire, sled or saucer.

Resource: Published in Paediatrics & Child Health, January 2002.
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