Tips to stay safe while playing outside in winter
With winter in full swing, the kids are ready to bundle up and romp outdoors. Before they head for the backyard, sled hill, ice-skating rink or family ski vacation, be prepared to keep them warm and outfitted with the proper sports gear.
This might include a helmet, wrist guards or goggles, depending on the sport. What is important is that children stay dry and warm, and that the gear they wear fits properly, according to pediatricians who treat injuries this time of year.
Whatever the activity, make sure to protect children from frigid temperatures, said Dr. Rebecca L Carl with the Institute for Sports Medicine at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
Carl recommends dressing children in thin layers with a wicking layer beneath to help children keep dry. Start with the snugger layers on the bottom, like long-sleeved bodysuits or long underwear. Then add pants and a warmer top, like a sweater or thermal-knit shirt. A thin fleece jacket over the top is a good option. As a general rule of thumb, younger children should wear one more layer than adults. And don't forget warm boots, glove or mittens, and a hat.
Sledding injuries, including concussions, are also common during winter. Sledders should be kept away from streets, crowded areas, ponds, lakes and obstructions, such as trees. Make sure young children are supervised. Avoid loose scarves that can get caught while sledding.
Carl recommends that children who are very different in age not share the same sled because if the larger child falls forward on the smaller child, they are both more likely to be injured. Instruct your children to sled feet first, sitting up. Consider having your child wear a helmet while sledding.
Of course, more safety gear is recommended for more demanding snow activities.
"We often see people return from winter break vacations with knee injuries from skiing and hand or wrist injuries from snowboarding, as well as concussions from both these sports," Carl said.
"Helmets are important for skiing and snowboarding, Gloves with wrist guards are important for snowboarding."
When ice skating, be sure to skate only on approved surfaces. Check for signs posted by local police or recreation departments. Advise your child to skate in the same direction as the crowd and avoid darting across the ice. It's best not to skate alone, or to chew gum or eat candy when skating. Consider having your child wear a helmet, knee pads and elbow pads, especially while learning to skate to keep them safe.
If your children want to learn to ski or snowboard, look for a qualified instructor in a program designed for children. Older children's need for adult supervision depends on their maturity and skill. If older children are not with an adult, they should always at least be accompanied by a friend.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 16 not operate snowmobiles and that children under age 6 never ride on snowmobiles. It's important to wear the right gear, including goggles and a safety helmet approved for use on motorized vehicles such as motorcycles. Travel at safe speeds, stay on marked trails and never snowmobile alone or at night.
"We love to see children stay active year-round," Carl said. "Many winter sports can be enjoyed by the whole family."
• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of American Academy of Pediatrics in Itasca.