Dressing Your Child for Winter Weather

Winter PlayDon’t let Jack Frost nip at your child’s nose (or any other small body part) this winter. Prolonged exposure to the cold can cause a number of health problems, including frostbite.

Before your child takes off for the sledding hills, be sure to dress him appropriately for the chilly winter weather. Layering is the best way to keep Jack Frost at bay. Here’s how:

  • Dress your child in an undershirt made of a material that wicks away moisture, such as polypropylene. Then cover with a long-sleeved turtleneck and heavy sweater or sweatshirt. Each article should fit loosely, and layers should be peeled off if your child starts to perspire.

  • Layer with a hooded water-repellant jacket or coat that is made of tightly woven fabric.

  • Warm the feet with a couple of pairs of loose-fitting socks; then slide on lined, water-repellant boots, making sure that toes have room to wiggle.

  • Have your child wear a tightly woven hat and scarf. Hats prevent heat from escaping through your child’s head, and scarves protect your child’s face, ears and neck from frostbite.

  • Choose tightly knitted mittens instead of gloves. Mittens create insulating air pockets, and your child’s fingers will build extra heat when they rub against each other.

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite is when the skin or the tissue beneath the skin freezes. This happens when skin is exposed to extreme cold, forcing blood vessels in the skin to contract and slow down normal blood flow. Depending on the severity of the case, those with frostbite may experience everything from a prickly sensation and numbness in the affected area to severe swelling and blotchy skin.

Children are more prone to frostbite than adults because they lose heat from their skin faster and may not want to leave their winter fun to go inside and warm up. What’s more, frostbite can occur in as little as 30 seconds, especially in the face of a chilling wind or when a child is wearing wet boots or clothes.    

There are three levels of frostbite:

  • Frost nip leaves skin white and numb and affects areas that are exposed to the cold—cheeks, nose, ears, neck, fingers and toes. The skin will feel stiff to the touch, but the tissue underneath remains soft. Frost nip is a minor form of frostbite, and it can often be treated, with proper instruction, at home. (Click here for more on treating frost nip.)
  • Superficial frostbite is when the skin becomes hard and frozen and turns white or, in more severe cases, blue. The tissue underneath the skin remains undamaged, but you must seek medical treatment immediately to prevent blistering, scarring or other permanent injuries. Do not attempt to treat superficial frostbite at home.
  • Deep frostbite is marked by blotchy skin with white and blue hues. The skin and tissue underneath are hard and cold to the touch. Deep frostbite is a life-threatening injury and requires immediate medical treatment. If the skin is not warmed and blood vessels remain frozen or rupture, doctors may be forced to amputate the affected area.

How Do I Treat Frostbite?

Quite frankly, home therapy should only be used in cases of frost nip—superficial frostbite and deep frostbite require immediate medical attention. To relieve frost nip,

  • Bring your child indoors immediately.

  • Remove all wet clothing, which draw heat from the body.

  • Do not rub your child’s skin, which can cause blistering and other damage.
  • Do not rub your child’s skin, which can cause blistering and other damage.

  • Dress him in warm layers and keep him indoors for the rest of the day. If he still feels cold or has hard white patches on his skin, call your doctor.

Most important, avoid frostbite altogether by dressing your child in layers and limiting outdoor playtime in cold weather to 15 or 20 minutes. If you are on the sledding hills or ski slopes, be sure to check your child’s skin every 10 to 20 minutes and have a warm change of clothes nearby in case your child gets wet.

Related Reading

Protecting Baby’s Skin from Winter