Winter Safety: Advice for parents and kids
Winter is a great season for outdoor activities, such as sledding and skating. Cold weather, ice, and snow can be both fun and dangerous for children. The following tips will help parents and children enjoy winter activities safely.
- Children shouldn’t play outside alone. Establish a buddy system with one or more friends and have them look out for one another. Children younger than 8 years of age should always be well supervised outside. Check every so often on older children who are playing outdoors for a long time.
- Check often to see that your child is warm and dry. Younger children should take regular breaks and come inside for a warm drink.
- Never send children outside in extreme weather conditions such as snowstorms.
- Do not send your child outside to play if the temperature or the windchill is reported as -25oC (-13oF) or lower. At these temperatures, exposed skin will begin to freeze.
- Help children choose play areas with a warm shelter nearby such as near home or a friend’s home.
- Apply sunscreen to exposed skin, even when it’s cloudy.
If your child’s feet and hands are warm, what they are wearing is usually good. If your child is dressed too warm, she could sweat and feel colder when she stops playing.
- Dress your child in layers of clothing that can be put on and taken off easily.
- Wear a hat because a lot of body heat is lost through the head.
- Keep ears covered at all times to prevent frostbite.
- Wear mittens instead of gloves so that fingers can be bunched together for warmth.
- Wear warm, waterproof boots that are roomy enough for an extra pair of socks and to wiggle toes around.
- Remove drawstrings from clothing that could catch on climbing or other play equipment. Use velcro or other snaps instead.
- Use a neck warmer instead of a scarf and mitten clips instead of a strings to prevent choking.
- After play, remove wet clothing and boots immediately.
Active games, making snow angels and building snowmen will help to keep your child warm. Teach your children a few important rules to go along with winter play.
- Stay away from snowplows and snow blowers. Choose play areas away from roads, fences and water.
- Take extra caution when crossing roads because it might be hard for drivers to see children playing if they have snowy or frosty windows.
- No snowball fights. They can cause an injury. Snowballs are most dangerous if the snow is hard-packed or icy.
- Don’t build snow forts or make tunnels. They can collapse and suffocate a child.
- Don’t play on roadside snow banks. The driver of a snowplow or other vehicle may not see a child.
- Don’t put metal objects in your mouth. Lips and tongues can freeze to the metal and cause an injury.
- Don’t eat snow, which can be dirty.
- Children under 5 should never go down a hill alone.
- Always wear a ski or hockey helmet – not a bicycle helmet – while sledding. Bicycle helmets are only tested up to -10ºC (14ºF) and need to be replaced after one crash. If you use a hockey helmet, make sure it meets the Canadian Standards Association standards.
- Never use a sled with sharp or jagged edges. Handholds should be secure.
- Use a sled you can steer rather than a snow disk or inner tube. It will provide better control.
- Always sit up or kneel on a sled. Lying down can increase the risk of injury to the head, spine and stomach.
- 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.
- Sled during the day. If you sled at night, make sure the hill is well lit.
- Slide down the middle of the hill and climb up along the sides. Remember to watch for other sledders and move quickly out of the way once at the bottom of the hill.
- Always wear a hockey or ski helmet while skating.
- Skates should be comfortable, with good ankle support, to avoid twists, sprains or breaks.
- Whenever possible, skate on public indoor or outdoor rinks. Teach your child to:
- Obey all signs posted on or near the ice. Yellow signs usually mean skate with caution, and red usually means no skating allowed.
- Always supervise children on the ice.
- Never assume it’s safe to skate on a lake or pond. An adult should make sure the ice is at least 10 cm (4”) thick for skating alone or 20 cm (8”) for skating parties or games. Do not walk on ice near moving water. Ice formed on moving water, such as rivers and creeks, may not be thick enough to be safe.
With lessons from a certified instructor, it's okay for younger children to ski or snowboard. However, a child’s coordination is not fully developed until age 10 years.
Parents should be sure their child:
- Takes lessons from a qualified skiing or snowboarding instructor.
- Checks equipment every year with their parents for fit and to be sure they are in good condition. Check bindings annually by a qualified technician.
- Always wear a helmet with side vents that allow children to hear.
- Wears wrist guards when snowboarding to reduce the risk of wrist injury.
- Wears goggles to protect eyes from bright sunlight and objects like tree branches that could cause an injury.
- Never skis or snowboards alone.
- Skis or snowboards with control of speed. Many injuries result from a loss of control. Stunts and fatigue also lead to injuries.
- Avoids icy hills. The risk of falls and injuries increases in icy conditions.
- Watches out for other skiers and snowboarders, as well as any other obstacles, on the slopes.
- Stays in open ski areas and on marked trails.
- Children younger than 6 years of age should never ride on a snowmobile, even with an adult.
- Children and youth younger than 16 years of age should not operate a snowmobile.
- Anyone operating a snowmobile should take a formal safety training program.
- Children and adults should wear an approved helmet at all times. Head injuries are the leading cause of snowmobile-related deaths.
- Never pull a child behind a snowmobile on a tube, tire, sled or saucer.
Source: Well Beings: A Guide to Health in Child Care (3rd edition)
Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Injury Prevention Committee
Public Education Advisory Committee
Last updated: January 2009