We all have great memories of playing outside on snow days: going sled riding, building snowman and warming up with soup or hot chocolate. As parents, however, snow days can take on a whole new meaning: debating whether it’s too cold to play outside, making sure kids have the right snow gear and keeping a close eye on everyone to make sure they don’t get too cold.

“Kids love to head outside on snow days, but it is important for parents to take a few simple steps to make sure children are playing safely,” said Mridula Naik, clinical nurse manager for the Pediatric Emergency Department at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center.

Here are four easy ways to keep snow days fun and injury-free:

  1. Check snow gear before it snows. Every season, do a quick inventory of the items you already have. Does everything still fit your child? Are there holes or rips that could let cold air or wet snow reach your child’s skin? Do you have all the gear and clothing you need? “Dress in layers for cold, snowy weather,” recommends Naik. “That includes thermal underwear, socks, waterproof gloves, ski pants, hats and jackets, just to name a few. You want your children to stay as dry as possible to avoid frostbite.”
  2. Establish clear rules with your children. Make sure children know where they can go, and where it is safe to ride sleds and other snow toys. Snow easily covers tree stumps and rocks, making it an invisible hazard to kids. Point out areas that are safe before snow falls, and be sure kids are following rules once they are outside.
  3. Set a timer to keep track of how long children are playing. Depending on the weather and wind chill, children shouldn’t play outside much longer than 20 minutes. “Children should really come inside as soon as they begin feeling cold,” says Naik. “Extremely red noses, cheeks or fingers are signs of frostbite. And if children have low energy, and don’t want to eat or drink, that could be a sign of hyperthermia and you should get them to the emergency room as quickly as possible.”
  4. Warm children up slowly. Get wet, cold clothing off as soon as children come inside. Offer warm drinks and blankets to slowly raise their temperatures. Naik warns parents to avoid immediately offering hot baths or hot foods. Extreme changes could bring a child’s temperature up too quickly and cause them to pass out.

This winter, make snow days the stuff of childhood memories. Speak with your pediatrician if you have any additional questions about playing safely outside in the snow and cold.