Rules for Safe Snow Days

From Parents Magazine

Are there any two sweeter words in the English language than “snow day”? Children are right to be psyched: the hit of sunlight reflecting off the snow can boost vitamin D levels, and research suggests that playing outdoors in nature may ease symptoms of ADHD. Plus, that snowman isn’t going to build himself. Let them have their day in the snow safely with these parent-tested tips.

Learn to layer correctly.

When it comes to winter play, layering is tricky: too many layers and they’ll overheat; too few and they’ll freeze their tushes off. According to Catherine O’Brien, a research physiologist with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, the key to keeping kids warm and dry is conserving heat while still letting steam escape.

How to do that? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends dressing young children in one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions. Start with a thin inner layer to wick moisture away from the skin. Avoid cotton, which soaks up sweat and holds it against the skin, accelerating heat loss; try a lightweight polyester or polypropylene fabric instead. Add two insulating middle layers (maybe a long-sleeved top and leggings) of similar materials, keeping them a little loose to trap insulating air between fibers. Top it all off with a wind- and waterproof outer shell.

Protect little hands and feet.

It’s easy for fingers and toes to grow downright icy as your little one’s body strains to conserve energy for his core. Mittens will keep hands toastier than gloves; look for ones with insulation and waterproof protection from wet, melting snow. Look for hand wear that extends up the child’s forearm to keep snow out, or try a shirt/glove combo—no wet hands, no lost mittens!

Down below, dress kids in thick, heavy socks (again, stay away from cotton) and warm, waterproof footwear. Go up a shoe size to avoid a too-tight fit: excess compression reduces socks’ insulating effects and reduces blood flow to feet. 

Dress them to be noticed.

Be sure your kids are clad in bright colors and/or reflective materials before they head out into the snow. Choose bright outer gear (white is not a good option) with reflective graphics on the front and back and/or place reflective tape on their clothing to ensure they’re seen in all weather conditions.

Protect their skin from sun.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, snow reflects 80 percent of UV rays. When those rays hit exposed, unprotected skin, they can cause a bad burn. Worsening matters, UV radiation exposure increases along with altitude, making sunblock even more of a must for pint-sized skiers and snowboarders.

Slather on broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, covering all exposed areas, including face, neck, hands and scalp. Skiers and snowboarders should opt for goggles with UV protection, and everyone needs to slick on SPF lip balm. Backyard igloo-builders and snowman-makers may opt for sunglasses instead of goggles, but eye protection of some kind is important.

Help them dash through the snow—safely.

Do a quick safety check of the areas where your kids will be playing. This means everything from warning your kids about the painful effects of putting tongue to the flagpole, to advising against building snow tunnels and forts, which can collapse or come into contact with the snow plow. Allow ice-skating on approved surfaces only (call your local police department for a list). To head off danger, enforce a strict buddy system at all times.

Avoid landing in the emergency room after a sledding mishap by taking kids to a well-used sledding hill and making sure the area is open and free of cars, trees, posts and rocks. Pick an off-peak time when child missiles aren’t zooming everywhere, and go only when it’s light outside. To avoid injury, allow only one child per sled, and avoid snow tubes, which can make it harder for others to see your speed demon (and are harder to stop or hop off without injury).

Give frostbite the cold shoulder.

The most common physical symptom of frostbite is a blister, but by that time it’s too late to prevent damage. Tell your child that if she notices any pain, decreased sensation, tingling or numbness, she should head inside immediately, where you should run warm—but not hot—water over the affected body part. 

Keep kids hydrated.

Cold, dry air makes it easy to get dehydrated—but very few kids want to drink when it’s cold out. Keep giving your kids water throughout the day, just like you would in the summer. The dry air can also be a risk factor for asthmatics, as it can be drying to the lungs. Talk with your pediatrician to see if you should prepare for winter play with a preventive inhaler or other medication. Pull a neck warmer up over little mouths to warm the air before it’s inhaled and monitor them for early warning signs of an impending asthma attack, such as shortness of breath, wheezing, dizziness or chest pain. Spot trouble? Have them head inside ASAP and treat with moist heat, like taking a steamy shower. Follow up with hot chocolate: doctor’s orders!

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