Staying active even during the winter is an important part of good health. But when temperatures drop, the incidence of injuries tends to spike. A 2010 study of U.S. emergency department visits found that about 20,000 children are treated each year for sledding-related injuries.
And that figure is just the tip of the iceberg. The study didn’t account for injuries not requiring an emergency department visit. It also looked at only sledding and not other winter sports such as ice skating, skiing, and snowboarding.
But don’t hang up the scarves just yet!
Here are 10 tips to help keep your kids safe this winter:
1. Dress them for the cold. Children should wear layers. Several thin layers will help them stay warm and dry. A general rule of thumb for older babies and young children is to dress them in one more layer of clothing than you would choose for yourself.
2. Check the play area. Select sites that aren’t overly crowded and where you’ll be able to see your children easily.
For sledding: Be sure the area isn’t near a roadway. It should be clear of obstacles such as trees, fences, buildings, and other structures. A recent study of sledding injuries found that “impact with a tree” was the most common cause of injury.
For skating: If outdoors, skate only on surfaces approved by local police or recreation departments; thin ice poses a real danger. Consider skating at a well-maintained indoor ice rink.
3. Use helmets. Helmets can reduce the risk of head injuries for all winter sports, including ice skating, sledding, and snowboarding and skiing. More than one-third of sledding injuries treated in emergency departments each year are head injuries.
4. Choose safe equipment. Proper, well-fitting equipment helps children stay safe.
For sledding: Make sure children can see over and around their sleds. Consider opting for steerable sleds, which may provide a bit more control.
For ice-skating, skiing, and snowboarding: Use of protectors such as wrist, elbow, and knee guards can help prevent fractures in the case of a fall. To reduce the risk of sprains, check that ice skates fit correctly and have good ankle support.
5. Consider professional lessons. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children learn winter sports like skiing and ice skating from qualified instructors in programs designed for beginners.
6. Take turns. Many injuries occur through collisions in overcrowded conditions.
For sledding and snowboarding: Make sure your children know to share the fun and take turns. Teach them to quickly move to the side and out of the way after each run. Don’t let them ride a sled together unless it’s made for two.
For skating: Teach young children to go with the flow of skaters and avoid darting across the ice. Keep young skaters within arm’s reach.
7. Provide adult supervision—or let older kids use the buddy system. Young children should always have a parent or other adult present; older children may be safe with a friend who could get help if anything goes wrong. No skater should ever be on ice outdoors alone.
8. Keep heads clear. Don’t allow your children to dig tunnels or snow forts that may collapse on them. Walls or barricades that children build up are much safer than “burrow-style” constructions.
9. Remember sunscreen. Sunburns don’t stop with the end of summer. Snow can reflect the sun’s rays, so cover any exposed skin with sunscreen, especially on the ski slopes.
10. Watch the time. Young children chill quickly. Know the symptoms of hypothermia—including lethargy, clumsiness, slurred speech, changes in skin color, and numbness—so you can spot them in your child. In extreme cold, check children’s hands and feet every 15 minutes to prevent frostbite.