Healthy Children - March 2016

Tips for a Safe and Fun Winter 

Staying cooped up during cold winter months can bring on a serious case of cabin fever for kids. Outdoor activities are a welcome dose of fun, especially after it snows. Here’s how to keep kids happy – and safe. 

Bo Kennedy MD, a Washington University emergency medicine physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, is a dad with kids who love the snow. Art Hill is their favorite destination for sledding. Like most parents, he wants to keep his kids safe. His advice to moms and dads? Use common sense and keep an eye on kids when they’re outside.

Here are his top suggestions for winter fun:


Find hills away from streets, trees or permanent objects, such as big rocks or bushes. Sometimes these objects aren’t easy to avoid if they’re covered in snow. Also, make sure there is one path going up a hill and another path to sled down. This helps your kids avoid running over people.

Keep an eye on the weather, as well. Snow may start to melt and then refreeze, or there could be a layer of ice with the snow.

“The biggest problem with icy surfaces is that they make sledders lose control – they can’t steer. “Dr. Kennedy says.

Teach children to take extra care when sledding in these conditions.

Finally, protect heads with helmets. “Although arm and wrist injuries are common, we worry most about head injuries,” Dr. Kennedy says. “Having your child sled feet first may also help with this problem.”

Snow Forts

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

“People underestimate the weight of snow.” Dr. Kennedy says. “If a snow roof falls on kids, it’s like being trapped in an avalanche. Kids may get stuck and not be able to breathe.”

Ice Skating

The biggest danger is falling on the ice, even for experienced people who 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 regular skating.”

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

“Around here, the temperature changes so much that it’s too dangerous,” He says. “The pond can have soft spots and thin ice.

Playing in the Cold

Frostbite is another issue in winter. It can harm kids who are playing outside or just waiting at the bus stop. To prevent frostbite, Dr. Kennedy suggests dressing kids in layers of synthetic material, which dries quickly, and covering up as much as you can. Take off wet clothes as soon as possible. Better yet, wear waterproof clothes, boots and gloves. Make sure there’s wiggle room in boots. The extra room allows air to circulate and will keep toes warmer.

The first sign of frostbite is burning pain. So parents should listen to their kids, especially if their kids are hurting from the cold, Dr. Kennedy says.

As frostbite gets worse, kids may start to loose feeling in the affected area. The key is to warm the area with warm water as soon as possible.

“When warming the area, don’t add a burn injury by using water that is too hot,” Dr. Kennedy says. “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 the ER.