Staying Safe In The Cold

We have had some amazingly cold days so far this winter—and there are more to come. While this is a normal part of winter here in New England, it can be dangerous in all sorts of ways. Here’s some information all parents should know to keep their children safe when the temperature drops:

It’s best to stay inside. This sounds obvious, but we are all creatures of habit, especially with things like errands, school drop-offs, waiting at bus stops, walking the dog and other things we do on a daily basis. It doesn’t always occur to us to alter our routines—by doing errands before picking up children, leaving small children with neighbors when we take others to school, shortening dog walks and otherwise avoiding time outside.

Dress in layers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this is what everyone should wear if they have to go outside:

  • a hat
  • a scarf or knit mask to cover the face and mouth
  • sleeves that are snug at the wrist
  • mittens (they are warmer than gloves)
  • water-resistant coat and boots
  • several layers of loose-fitting clothing (wool, silk or polypropylene are better than cotton for inner layers)

Stay dry. If children get wet in the snow or otherwise, they should come inside and change. And staying dry also applies to perspiration, which is the body’s way of cooling off; if kids are getting hot in all those layers, they should get rid of one.

Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector. Every year, there are tragedies as people try to heat their homes and shut all the windows against the cold. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer; get a detector. And remember: never sit inside a running car unless the tailpipe is fully cleared of snow.

Limit exertion. It’s hard enough to keep warm. Yes, everyone should exercise. But not when the temperatures drop dangerously low.

Don’t ignore shivering. It’s how your body lets you know it’s getting too cold. Get your child warm if it happens. Drink hot cocoa—not only is it yummy, but it is a great way to help warm you up!

Be safe with space heaters. It’s better not to use them at all, but if you do:

  • don’t leave kids unattended near them
  • don’t cover them or leave them near anything that could catch fire (like bedding or curtains)
  • avoid using extension cords with them

Know the signs of hypothermia. Because very low temperatures can affect the brain, people don’t always realize that they are getting too cold. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, drowsiness, confusion or slurred speech. Infants may seem drowsy and have bright red, cold skin. The most important thing to do is get the person to a warm place, get off any wet clothing, get them covered in lots of warm layers and give them something warm to drink. If the person’s temperature is 95 or below, it’s an emergency—get medical attention if it’s that low or you have any concerns.

Know the signs of frostbite. Frostbite can happen fast, especially when there is wind chill (that’s why it’s important to cover up any exposed skin!). And because the skin gets numb, often people don’t realize it’s happening. Frostbitten skin looks white or grayish yellow and feels waxy. If you think frostbite may be happening, warm the area gently with warm water or body heat. Don’t rub it—that can make things worse—and use heating pads and other hot things with caution, as the numbness may stop people from realizing they are getting burned! If the skin doesn’t start to look better quickly, get medical attention—best to call your doctor for advice no matter what.

For more advice on cold weather safety, check out the CDC’s Extreme Cold Prevention Guide.