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Winter safety: Advice for parents and kids

Highlights
  • Young children generate less body heat, and get cold more quickly than adults.
  • Check often that children are staying warm and dry while playing outside in the winter.
  • Dress your child in layers of clothing that can be put on and taken off easily.
  • Infants being pulled in a sled need extra bundling. Because they aren't moving, they can't generate body heat the way a playing child can.

Winter is a great season for outdoor activities, such as sledding and skating. Cold weather, ice, and snow can be fun but also dangerous for children. The following tips will help parents and children enjoy winter activities safely.

In general: 

  • 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 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 -27oC (-16oF) or lower. At these temperatures, exposed skin will begin to freeze.
  • Help children choose play areas with a warm shelter nearby (e.g., near home or a friend’s home).
  • Apply sunscreen to exposed skin, even when it’s cloudy.

Clothing

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.
  • Remove drawstrings from clothing that could catch on climbing or play equipment.  Use Velcro or other snaps instead.
  • Use a neck warmer instead of a scarf, and mitten clips instead of a string to prevent choking.
  • Remove wet clothing and boots immediately after playing.
  • Infants being pulled in a sled need extra bundling. Because they aren't moving, they can't generate body heat the way a playing child can.

Winter play

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. It might be hard for drivers to see you playing if they have snowy or frosty windows. Icy roads can also make it difficult to stop.
  • Snowballs should never be aimed at people or cars. They are especially dangerous when the snow is hard-packed or icy. Instead, throw snowballs at safe targets, like trees or telephone poles. 
  • Building forts and tunnels can be fun, but this activity should always be supervised by an adult. Forts and tunnels can collapse and suffocate you.
  • Don’t play on roadside snow banks. Snowplow drivers or other drivers may not see you.
  • 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.

Tobogganing/Sledding

  • Children under 5 years of age 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.
  • Sleds that are lifted up onto skis (e.g., GT Racers) are not recommended because they can reach dangerous speeds.
  • 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.

Skating

  • Always wear a properly fitted 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.
  • Obey all signs posted on or near the ice. Yellow signs usually mean skate with caution, and red usually means no skating allowed.
  • 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.

Skiing/snowboarding

  • Children should take lessons from a certified skiing or snowboarding instructor. Be mindful that a child’s coordination is not fully developed until 10 years of age.
  • Equipment should be checked every year for proper fit and condition. Bindings should be checked annually by a qualified technician.
  • Children should always wear a helmet with side vents so they can hear. Earphones should never be worn when skiing or snowboarding.
  • Children should watch for other skiers, snowboarders, and other obstacles on the slopes.
  • Wrist guards should be worn when snowboarding to reduce the risk of wrist injuries.
  • Goggles should be worn to protect eyes from bright sunlight and objects, like tree branches.
  • Young children should never ski or snowboard alone.
  • Children should always control their speed when skiing or snowboarding. Many injuries result from losing control. Stunts and fatigue can also lead to injuries.
  • Icy hills should be avoided. The risk of falls and injuries increases in icy conditions.
  • Children should always stay in open ski areas and on marked trails.

Snowmobiles

  • Children younger than 6 years of age should never ride on a snowmobile, even with an adult.
  • Children and youth less than 16 years of age should not operate a snowmobile.
  • Anyone operating a snowmobile should take a formal safety training program.
  • Never pull a child behind a snowmobile on a tube, tire, sled or saucer.
  • Children and adults should wear an approved helmet at all times. Head injuries are the leading cause of snowmobile-related deaths.
  • Drowning is another leading cause of snowmobile deaths. Snowmobiling across ponds or lakes can be extremely dangerous and is not recommended.  

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: November 2014