Healthy Children - March 2018

Tips for a Safe and Fun Winter

The dreary winter weather can bring on a serious case of cabin fever for kinds. So outdoor activities—especially in the snow—are a welcome dose of fun. But be prepared, because they also can be dangerous. 

Bo Kennedy, MD, an emergency medicine physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, is a dad with kids who love the snow. St. Louis Forest Park’s famous Art Hill is their favorite destination for sledding. Dr. Kennedy stresses that parents should use common sense, and supervise kids when they’re outside in the snow. You can’t swaddle your kids in bubble wrap to protect them, but you can take some practical precautions so they can still have fun outside—safely. Here are some areas to watch for:


  • Find hills away from streets, trees or stationary objects. Sometimes objects, such as big rocks or bushes aren’t obvious if they’re covered in snow.
  • Make sure there are separate paths to go up and down a hill to avoid running over people.
  • Protect your children with helmets while sledding, “Although arm and wrist injuries are common, we worry most about head injuries,” Dr. Kennedy says. “Having your child sled feet first may help with this problem.”
  • When snow start to melt and then refreezes, or there’s a layer of ice with the snow, remind children to take extra care when sledding. “The biggest problem with icy surfaces is that they tend to make sledder’s lose control—they can’t steer,” Dr. Kennedy says.

Snow Forts

To build a safer snow fort, keep it away from the street and only build sides with snow. Dr. Kennedy recommends using plywood as a roof or not putting a roof on at all.

“People underestimate the weight of snow,” Dr. Kennedy says. “If a snow roof collapses on kids, it can cause suffocation like an avalanche would.”

Ice Skating

The worst ice skating injury coming from falling on ice, and even experienced skaters may get knocked over.

“It’s important to wear a helmet when ice skating,” Dr. Kennedy says. “You can buy special helmets, but bike helmets are fine for routine skating.”

He also advises against skating on ponds or lakes in the St. Louis area.

“Around here, we have such temperature fluctuations that it’s too dangerous,” he says. “The pond can have soft spots and thin ice.”

Playing in the Cold

Frostbite is a concern when kids are playing outside in the winter—or even if they’re waiting at the bus stop.

“Parents should listen to their kids, especially if they say they’re hurting from the cold,” Dr. Kennedy says.

He advises dressing children in layers of synthetic material, such as long underwear made with polypropylene and keeping exposed parts to a minimum. Take off wet clothes as soon as possible, and use waterproof clothes, boots and gloves. Make sure there’s wiggle room in boots for circulation.

The first sign of frostbite is burning pain. As frostbite progresses, the area affected will feel numb. The key is to warm the area as soon as possible.

“When warming the area, don’t add a burn injury by using water that is too hot,” Dr. Kennedy cautions. “Put warm water in a bowl and test the temperature. And don’t rub the area. It’s a myth that you should rub the area with snow. That will further damage the skin.”

If normal skin color does not return in one hour, call your doctor or go to the ER.