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National Child Safety Expert, Alison Rhodes, “The Safety Mom,” is one of the country's leading child safety authorities, providing tips and advice to parents on a broad range of issues facing all children - newborns to teens.

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Safe Winter Play
by Alison Rhodes

If you live in most parts of the country, snow is a reality of winter. As a mom, I must admit that I enjoy the first snow day of the year as much as the kids. There's something about it that makes everyone feel like a kid again.

There are so many great outdoor sports to enjoy in the winter, but it's important to take some basic safety precautions, participate responsibly, and also recognize the signs of when it's time to take a break to warm up with some hot chocolate.

The right clothes can make the difference between having fun and being miserable while participating in winter sports. Layering is the name of the game. It's best to avoid cotton, as it won't keep them very warm and will get cold when it retains moisture. Rather, start with a nylon-type shell and then continue with a turtleneck, fleece, and coat. Scarves should be avoided, as the ends can get caught and pose a strangulation hazard. Instead, look for a gaiter (it's the top piece of a turtleneck) to fully protect their necks. Hats and warm gloves are a must, and, in fact, keep an extra pair of gloves and socks on hand, as these are the first items to get wet and cold. Make the outer layer of clothing waterproof, as this will help keep the layers underneath dry. Sunglasses should be worn and sunscreen applied - those UV rays are still coming through!

Sledding is perhaps the easiest winter sport for anyone to participate in. It also, however, can be dangerous. According to the National SAFE Kids Campaign, hospital emergency rooms treat about 14,900 children ages 5 to 14 for sledding injuries each year. Head injuries are a common and serious kind of sledding injury. Parents should always supervise their children while sledding and make sure that the hill is safe (no obstacles in the path, and it doesn't end on a pond or near a parking lot or street.) Children should wear helmets while sledding and always go down feet first, sitting forward.

Skiing and snowboarding are great winter sports and can be enjoyed by the entire family. Our daughter started on skis last year at age 3 and loved it. Children should be taught to ski and snowboard responsibly and learn the National Ski Patrol's Responsibility Code. While lessons aren't imperative, it's a good idea to start children off with one or two so that they learn the basics. Both snowboarders and skiers should always wear helmets. This alone could reduce head injuries by about 50 percent. Also, make sure that the equipment your children are using is appropriate for their height and weight and is in good working order. Goggles or glasses should be worn and will help protect their eyes from sun and flying objects. Above all, set a good example for your children by being a courteous and responsible snowboarder or skier. Don't ski recklessly or stop on the middle of the mountain.

Ice skating is another great sport that can be enjoyed by the entire family and costs very little. Again, make sure that your child's skates fit her properly and provide ankle support. Do not ski on a pond or lake unless it has been designated as a safe skating area, and be sure to check for cracks and holes in the ice. Never allow your child to skate alone - insist on the buddy system.

Kids usually have so much fun outside with all of these activities that it's hard to get them to come inside, so keep an eye out for frostnip and frostbite. Frostbite occurs in children much faster than adults since they lose heat from their skin faster. Make them stop and take breaks frequently to come in for a warm snack and to change any wet clothes. Frostnip is less severe than frostbite and acts as an early warning sign of the onset of frostbite. It usually affects the tips of the ears, fingers, cheeks, nose, and toes. The skin can become numb and tingly. To treat, remove wet clothing and immerse the chilled body part in warm water, between 100 and 104 degrees F.

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