Now that winter temperatures are here for the foreseeable future, you may be wondering how cold is TOO cold for kids to play outside.
Maybe your own mother has been asking you if you are sure her grandchildren are warm enough every time you take them outside with out three extra pairs of socks on.
Or maybe the other parents in your Facebook parenting group might swear taking kids out in anything below sun-tanning weather is irresponsible.
But if we refused to take our children out once the weather got a little chilly, our kids would be missing out on the magic of wintertime play. Not to mention as parents we would start going a bit bananas by mid-winter.
So how cold IS too cold to take kids outside?
There’s no defined limit, but with proper precautions, kids definitely play outside in sub-freezing temperatures. The benefits to heading outdoors in the winter – physical exercise for the whole family, fresh air, vitamin D make playing outside in all seasons worth it.
Cold temperatures just require a little extra planning.
Here’s what you need to know to keep your children safe when playing in the cold.
How to keep kids warm in cold weather
When temperatures drop, you need layers.
Dress babies and toddlers in one more layer than you have on yourself. For my older children, I will occasionally put them in less layers than I do myself. They’re typically running around while I am hanging back and watching. But remember, it’s always easier to take off a layer than to put one on.
The types of layers matter. You need at least three layers: wicking, warming and weathering.
Wicking: This layer keeps sweat off of skin and reduces the chance of hypothermia. You want it to be made of polyester, bamboo, or wool (that is, anything other than cotton). Wool socks are also important for keeping toes warm.
Warming: This layer (or several layers) can simply be street clothes – sweatpants, sweatshirts, fleece. Wool is a great choice and my personal favorite, but whatever you have on hand will also work.
Weathering: This is your hearty and waterproof layer, like a snow or rain-suit. Make sure to adjust sleeves and pant legs around boots and mittens properly so you keep snow away from hands and feet.
Don’t forget that hats, mittens, and scarves or neck warmers can go a long way in keeping children warm. Children often resist wearing them, so its worth investing in ones they will actually wear.
For more on how to keep babies and kids warm in the winter, this post goes in to more depth. And be sure to check out our favorite winter gear for kids.
How cold is too cold
Every family will have their own personal “Brr – it’s too cold outside today!” In our family, we start hunkering down indoors below 10 degrees on a cloudy day and 0 on a sunny day. (Although at those temperatures we will keep our outings fairly short – 30 minutes to an hour).
The windchill is just as important as the air temperature when it comes to preparing for outdoor play. Even a windspeed of just 10 mph can take an ambient air temperature of 20 degrees down to a feels like temperature of 9 degrees.
If the ambient air temperature or the wind chill is below -13 degrees Fahrenheit, pediatrician groups start recommending keeping children indoors. When wind chill temperatures hit double digits below zero, frostbite can occur in as little as 30 minutes.
But hypothermia can be a concern even at significantly warmer temperatures if someone gets wet. If your child gets soaked from falling into water or if their clothing is freezing rain, head inside to warm up immediately.
Taking Babies Outside in the Cold
Parents of babies need to pay extra attention to their comfort as they might not be able to effectively communicate their comfort level. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that:
“Newborn infants are prone to hypothermia because of their large body surface area, small amounts of subcutaneous fat, and decreased ability to shiver.”
If you are wearing a little one in a carrier, keep in mind they might not be getting as much circulation in their legs. Dangling legs and feet might get colder faster than when your little one is walking.
If you have a jacket large enough, wear it around both of you for an extra layer of warmth. Otherwise, consider a jacket extender so your jacket can wrap around your little one too. If they are old enough, encourage them to walk periodically.
When to go Inside
All good things must come to an end eventually. Typically, our outdoor play ends when my toes just can’t take it anymore, even if my kids would keep going. But it’s important to be aware of their signs too, especially if they don’t want to stop playing.
For older kids, shivering, goosebumps, lethargy, and disorientation are signs of hypothermia and mean it’s time to seek warm shelter immediately. If skin is looks bright red, it’s also time to go warm up as it could be an early sign of frostbite.
After you make it back inside, check your baby’s belly, hands, and toes. Hands and toes should be cool – not cold or warm. His belly should be warm, not cool or hot.
If belly, hands, and toes are too warm, it means he was likely overdressed for the weather. Warm fingers and toes if they are chilly, and make a mental note to dress warmer him next time.
If you are concerned that your child may have gotten too cold, remove any wet clothing immediately. Seek medical attention if their temperature is below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place any potentially frostbitten areas in warm water, and warm them under dry blankets. Don’t rub or massage frostbitten areas, and do not use heaters or heating pads to warm them.
But DON’T Stay Inside all Winter
It’s pretty easy to fall into a trap of saying “It’s just too cold out today.” But if we stayed indoors every time temperatures dropped, we would miss out on plenty of wonderful family memories. However, when outside play is not possible, these ideas of bringing the outside in help a ton!
With a little precaution, playing outdoors all winter long is not only possible, but absolutely beneficial for our kids.
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