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Help kids play it safe during the winter months

Diane Debrovner, health and psychology editor at Parents magazine, shares tips to keep your children out of harm's way during the cold weather season.
/ Source: TODAY

When the temperature drops, the fun begins for winter enthusiasts. But the cold weather can also raise danger in the home and outdoors. Diane Debrovner, health and psychology editor at Parents magazine, was invited on the “Today” show to offer some tips to keep your kids safe during the cold season.Heating Your Home

  • Because of high heating costs this winter, many families may turn to alternative ways to heat their home. But if not used properly, they can pose serious safety hazards.
  • In a typical year, there are about 10,000 residential fires associated with portable heaters, 15,000 fires associated with fireplaces and chimneys, and about 100 deaths associated with carbon monoxide exposure from heating devices.

Space heaters

  • Keep young children away from space heaters. Never leave them unattended with one.
  • If you do use a space heater, make sure you choose one that meets the latest safety standards and has a seal from an independent testing laboratory.
  • Space heaters need space!  Make sure it is at least 3 feet away from bedding, drapes, furniture or other flammable materials.
  • Turn the space heater off when you leave a room, and never leave them on when you go to sleep. 
  • Keep a window or door open in a room when using an unvented heater.


  • Keep children and any flammable objects at least 3 feet from a lit fireplace.
  • DO use an attached metal screen on your fireplace.
  • DON’T use a free-standing (standard-size) metal fireplace gate. Your child can easily pull it over.
  • Hearth guards/gates that block off the fireplace are good protection for young children. 
  • DON’T use sharp metal fireplace tools, which can injure children.
  • Make sure your fireplace and chimney is professionally inspected every year.
  • Make sure flue is open — otherwise carbon monoxide can build up.
  • Teach children never to throw anything into the fire.
  • Don’t use charcoal or flammable liquids to light a fire.


  • DON’T use a warm-steam humidifier in any room of your house if you have a mobile baby or young child at home. Children can easily burn themselves.
  • DO use a cool-mist humidifer in your child’s bedroom at night if he has a cold or is prone to winter nosebleeds.

Keeping kids warm

  • Dress your baby or young child in one extra layer than you typically wear outside.  Several thin layers will keep her warm and dry.
  • Good layers for a baby:  Cotton one-piece undershirt; thick socks; thermal shirt or turtleneck; fleece top or sweater; bunting or snowsuit (preferably one that covers hands and feet); mittens; hat that covers ears.
  • Good layers for kids: Thermal underwear; turtleneck; fleece or sweater; sweatpants or waterproof pants; two pairs of socks (perhaps sock liners and wool socks) water-resistant jacket; waterproof mittens (glove liners can be good too); hat that covers ears (or earmuffs over hat); waterproof boots with gripping surface
  • DO use a neck gaiter.
  • DON’T use a scarf, which can get caught on objects and be a strangulation hazard.
  • Infants should be taken out in cold weather only when necessary.
  • If your kids are playing outside, have them come in at least every half-hour to warm up.
  • Don’t let kids play outside when it’s too cold or windy — always check windchill, and stay inside when it is 10 degrees F or lower.

Frostnip (mild frostbite)

  • Symptoms:  Red skin (possibly with white patches) on ears, nose, cheeks, fingers, toes. Skin stings after your child comes inside.
  • Fast First Aid:  Get your child inside as soon as possible. Warm child’s skin with your hands while still out in cold. Change out of wet clothes and soak affected areas in warm (NOT HOT) bath until skin turns pink.

Frostbite (frozen skin)

  • Symptoms: White or grayish-yellow skin that seems hard and waxy or blistered.
  • Fast First Aid: Change your child into warm, dry clothes and go to the ER.  DON’T warm the area over a heater or fireplace and DON’T rub frostbit skin, which can be easily damaged.

Hypothermia (Low Body Temperature)

  • Symptoms: Shivering, goosebumps, pale or bluish skin, irregular breathing. A baby may not shiver but have bright red skin; she’ll be irritable and may cry, but then she’ll start to fall asleep.
  • Fast First Aid: Bring your child inside and change her into dry clothing. Give her something warm to drink. Wrap her in a blanket. DON’T warm her with heater or fireplace.  Call 911 if her temperature drops below 95 degrees or she doesn’t seem to be getting better or is clumsy or lethargic.

Winter Sports Safety


  • DO use a steerable sled.
  • DON’T use a snow disk or inner tube.
  • DO wear a helmet designed for downhill sports
  • DON’T wear clothes with drawstrings, which could get caught on equipment.
  • To prevent head injuries, sled feet first or sitting up, not lying down head-first.
  • Kids under 6 should sled with an adult.
  • All kids should be supervised.
  • Sled away from motor vehicles — never use a car or motorized vehicle to pull a sled.
  • Sled slopes should not be icy or have any obstructions like fire hydrants or rocks or be too steep (30 degree slope or less).
  • Avoid overcrowded areas.

Ice skating

  • Only skate in approved areas. On ponds, look for approved signs from local police or recreation departments.
  • DO wear wrist guards to protect wrists from falls.
  • Teach your child how to stop correctly to avoid collisions.
  • Skate in the same direction as the crowd, and don’t dart across the ice.
  • Make sure laces are tied tightly.

Skiing and snowboarding

  • DO wear goggles and a helmet (plus gloves with built-in wristguards for snowboarding).
  • American Academy of Pediatrics advises against snowboarding before age 7.
  • Children should always be supervised.
  • Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen that’s at least SPF 30 — sun can reflect off snow and easily cause sunburn in winter.


  • Kids under 16 should never operate a snowmobile. and children under 6 should not ride on a snowmobile.
  • Don’t use a snowmobile to pull sleds.