Children's Health

Cold Weather Requires Protection and Preparation

Emergency Medicine Physician Offers Tips for Children and Families

From sledding and ice skating to cross country skiing and snowboarding, Michigan’s winter months offer children and families a variety of outdoor activities.

“Cold weather doesn’t mean children and families need to stay inside,” said Matthew Denenberg, MD, emergency medicine, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “It does mean parents should take extra precautions to keep their children safe with frigid temperatures and winter sports. Accidents can occur easily, and before you know it, you may be facing an injury or emergency.”

Experts at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and the American Academy of Pediatrics encourage protection and preparation when enjoying all the outdoors has to offer this season.

General Safety
Children should never ice skate, ski, sled, snowmobile or snowboard alone. Parents should encourage helmet use to prevent possible head injury and always supervise activity. Set time limits on outdoor play and request children come inside periodically to warm up.

Ice Skating

  • Allow children to skate only on approved surfaces.’Check for signs posted by local police or recreation departments, or call your local police department to find out which areas have been approved.
  • Advise your child to skate in the same direction as the crowd, avoid darting across the ice and to never skate alone.


  • Children should be supervised while sledding.
  • Do not allow sledding near cars and avoid sledding in crowded areas.
  • Keep young children separated from older children.
  • Do not use snow disks or inner tubes.
  • Sled feet first or sitting up to prevent head injuries.
  • Choose sledding areas that are:
    • Free of obstructions like trees or fences.
    • Covered in snow not ice.
    • Not too steep and end with a flat runoff.

Skiing and Snowboarding

  • Children should be taught to ski or snowboard by a qualified instructor in a program designed for children.
  • Skiers should wear safety bindings that are adjusted annually.
  • Snowboarders should wear gloves with built-in wrist guards.
  • Choose slopes that fit the ability and experience of the skier or snowboarder.’
  • Avoid skiing in areas with trees and other obstacles.
  • Children under age seven should not snowboard.


  • Children under age 16 should not operate a snowmobile and children under age six should not ride on snowmobiles.
  • Do not use a snowmobile to pull a sled or skiers.
  • Wear goggles and a safety helmet approved for use on motorized vehicles.
  • Travel at safe speeds.
  • Stay on marked trails, away from roads, water, railroads and pedestrians.

Problems arise when infants and children are not dressed properly. They should be dressed in several thin layers to stay warm and dry. Adequate outdoor clothing includes thermal long johns, turtlenecks, at least one shirt, pants, sweater, coat, warm socks, boots, gloves or mittens and a hat.

Hypothermia develops when a child’s temperature falls below normal due to exposure to cold. It often happens when children are playing outdoors in extremely cold weather without wearing proper clothing or when clothes get wet.’As hypothermia sets in, the child may shiver and become lethargic and clumsy.’Their speech may become slurred and body temperature will decline.

What to do: Call 911 if you suspect your child is hypothermic. Until help arrives, take the child indoors, remove any wet clothing and wrap them in blankets or warm clothes.

Frostbite happens when the skin and outer tissues become frozen. This condition tends to happen on extremities like the fingers, toes, ears and nose.’ They may become pale, gray and blistered. At the same time, the child may complain that their skin burns or has become numb.

What to do: If frostbite occurs, bring the child indoors and place the frostbitten parts of the body in warm water. Warm washcloths may be applied to frostbitten nose, ears and lips.’ Do not rub the frozen areas. After a few minutes, dry and cover the child with clothing or blankets. Give him something warm to drink. If the numbness continues for more than a few minutes, call your doctor.

Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is West Michigan’s largest children’s hospital, serving children and families throughout a 37-county region. A teaching hospital, it includes more than 150 pediatric specialty physicians uniquely skilled in providing medical and surgical care to children in 40 pediatric specialties. The hospital cares for more than 7,600 inpatients and 190,000 outpatients annually. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is committed to caring for children and their families with compassion, excellence and innovation.’ Visit for more information.