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How to Be Safe in Ice and Snow

Your dream finally came true . . . it was announced on the radio and on TV . . . it's a snow day! School's closed for the whole day, and that means it's time for one thing: going outside to have fun in the snow. Or maybe you're getting ready go on a family skiing trip.

Whatever the case, winter is a really fun time of year — it's great to have snowball fights, build snowmen, and construct igloos.

But while you're out having fun, you have to know how to be safe. When it's cold outside and you're not prepared, you can feel uncomfortable or even downright rotten. Lucky for you, learning how to stay safe is a breeze — even when puddles start to freeze!

Love Those Layers

Dressing in layers is the best way to stay warm and toasty in the cold, because you can start out with lots of clothes to keep you warm and then peel them off once you start to heat up.

Depending on where you live and how cold it is, some kids may need more layers, some less. But if you're in doubt, go for more layers to start — they can always come off later. (Whatever you do, always leave your coat on — that's one layer that should stay!)

For your top half, start by putting on a long-sleeved undershirt (thermal or woolen). Then put on a turtleneck, one or two shirts, a sweater, and a coat. If you can, pick out clothes that are made of fabrics other than cotton, because cotton doesn't keep you very warm.

For your bottom half, put on long underwear first (thermal or woolen), then pull on a pair of heavy pants. Try to avoid jeans or light cotton pants (like khakis), because they won't keep you very warm. They will actually make your legs and behind colder if you fall down and get wet. Waterproof pants (like ski pants) are best.

Finish up with heavy socks and waterproof boots. If you're going to be doing a lot of trekking around, you'll want to wear boots that have good treads for keeping you steady on snowy and icy areas.

Grab That Hat

You're all bundled up and ready to go, but are you forgetting something? Pull a hat onto your head! You'll stay much warmer with a hat than without one — tons of body heat escapes right from your head. Scarves, facemasks, and earmuffs are also great at covering you up so you'll stay comfortable longer.

And don't forget mittens or gloves — the waterproof kind are best if you know you'll be playing around a lot in the snow. Keeping your hands warm and dry is important because fingers are very sensitive to the cold.

Drink Up!

Sounds like advice for hot weather, not cold weather, right? Well, the truth is that it's good advice for both kinds of weather. When you're outside in the cold and breathing hard, you lose a lot of your body's water through your breath. And the best way to get that water back is to drink up!

Warm drinks and soups keep you hydrated and heat up your insides when it's cold outside. Plus, stopping to have something warm to drink has two other bonuses: first, it makes you go inside and get warm for a few minutes while you're drinking; and second, it makes you go inside and get warm for a few minutes while you're using the bathroom later!

Take It Easy

Sometimes if you're out having fun, it's easy to forget to pay attention to your body. But if your body temperature drops even 4 or 5 degrees while you're outside, it can make you feel crummy.

That's why you need to be alert to your body's signals. If you're starting to shiver or your teeth are chattering, it's a message from your body that you need to head inside. And if you ever feel dizzy or weak, those are sure signs that you have to take it easy indoors for a while.

Keeping an eye on other kids can help make things safe. If it looks like a friend is shivering and really cold, suggest that you take a break inside together. You can both warm up while playing a game or watching TV and then head back outside for more fun.

Fight the Bite

If you're outside on a very cold day and you're not wearing enough protective clothing, you could be in danger of getting frostbite. Frostbite is when the body's tissues freeze, and it usually happens to skin that is exposed (like your face or your ears) or to parts of the body like your fingers or toes.

If you're playing it safe in the cold — by wearing heavy clothes, socks, and mittens, and by taking breaks inside when you think you need them — you probably won't have any problem with frostbite.

But if you're ever outside and you can't feel your fingers, toes, cheeks, ears, or nose, it may be a sign of frostbite. (Even if it's not frostbite, it's a sign that you should head inside anyway.) Sometimes frostbite can make these body parts hurt or feel hard when you touch them; it can also make the skin on these parts look glossy (shiny) or pale. If you think even for a second that you might have frostbite, go indoors and tell an adult right away.

Once you're inside, an adult should call your doctor. In the meantime, wiggle the part as much as you can — this will make more blood go to the area. If it's possible, hold the part against another area of your body that's warm — like holding your fingers on your stomach, for example.

Finally, if you ever think you have frostbite, never stick the frostbitten part in hot water or hold something hot against it. Putting the part in warm water is OK — just be sure you have an adult check the temperature first.

Keeping safe in the winter is easy to do, once you know how. You want your snow day and other cold days to be the most fun they can be, so put on those layers, wear your hat and gloves, have something warm to drink, and head out for the biggest snowball championship ever!

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date Reviewed: Jan 7, 2016

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