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Winter safety

The winter months can be exciting for young children, particularly if it’s snowing, but winter also brings new dangers and an increased risk of accidents. Here are some things to be aware of during the autumn and winter.

Cold weather

Some viruses thrive in winter and the cold weather can weaken your child’s immune system. Babies and children under five years old are particularly vulnerable to the effects of cold weather.

Most children are eligible for an annual flu vaccine which is often administered via nasal spray. Speak to your GP, practice nurse or health visitor about this if your child has an underlying illness, as they may be eligible for a vaccine from six months old. Children who catch flu after vaccination are less likely to be seriously ill or admitted to hospital.

In some circumstances, exposure to the cold weather can cause hypothermia and frostbite which can be life threatening. When outside during cold weather you should dress your child in several layers, and make sure their head, neck and hands are covered. Dress babies and young children in one more layer than an adult would wear. Scarves and hood strings can be dangerous for smaller children, so use other clothing to keep them warm. If clothes get wet, they should be changed immediately when you get home. Additionally, once you return home, extra layers should be removed so they don’t get too hot.

To reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDs), babies should sleep in rooms heated to between 16C and 20C with light bedding or a child’s sleeping bag appropriate to their weight or size. Use a room thermometer to check the temperature in the room where your baby is sleeping. Babies who get too hot are at increased risk of SIDS.

You can keep more heat in the home by closing curtains and blinds at dusk and closing doors to block out draughts. For money and energy saving tips, click here.

If you’re struggling to pay for your heating costs, you may be eligible for government support to make payments. 

You should have your heating system checked regularly by a professional to ensure it is efficient and meets safety standards. Make sure smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms are working properly too. If you have an open fire, chimneys need to be swept and kept clear of debris.

If you have a fireplace surround, ensure it has been fitted by a professional. Unstable fire surrounds can topple and cause injury or death due to their weight.

Road and car safety

During the autumn and winter months, the days get shorter and daytime visibility is reduced. This means it’s harder for other road users to see you and your child whilst you are out walking. This is a particular problem during weekday mornings and afternoons, when traffic is heavier and children are travelling to and from school or nursery. Unfortunately, many serious accidents happen because drivers do not see pedestrians until it is too late. To be safe, make sure your child can be seen.

To help with this, children can wear fluorescent materials during the day to stay as visible as possible. This could be in the form of a stripe on their jacket or a fluorescent patch on their bag.

Fluorescent materials do not work in the dark, so use reflective materials later in the day. Even a small patch of reflective material will be visible to other drivers from afar, but try to use as much as you can to be as safe as possible.

Closed or disused roads are never safe for children to play on, even when it’s snowing. Traffic can still pass through closed roads, and winter weather can make visibility and braking more difficult.

Where possible, if you’re pregnant or with young children you should avoid travelling by foot when there is snow or ice around. If you must travel, be extra cautious, take it slowly and leave earlier to allow plenty of time to get to your destination. Watch out for patches of black ice, which looks darker than white ice, and stick to treated paths and pavements whilst avoiding steps or slopes.

If you drive, keep car antifreeze and screen wash away from young children at all times. The bright colours can attract curious children and they are highly poisonous when ingested.

Playing in the snow

Playing in the snow is great fun! If you’re tobogganing or sledging, make sure you:

  • Follow our advice above on keeping warm
  • Choose a slope that isn’t too steep, make sure it’s free of obstacles and doesn’t end near a road, body of water or solid objects such as trees, fences and walls.
  • Only sledge during the daytime and if visibility is good
  • Wear a helmet
  • Don’t let young children sledge individually or unsupervised, older children should only do so when they know how to stop and control their descent

Ice can be a big risk to young children. Stay away from bodies of water when it’s cold, especially if they’ve iced over. You can never tell how thick ice is, so the best thing to do is keep off it. If you’re out walking near a body of water, keep dogs on a lead at all times. Thick ice can still crack and break, and serious injuries and death can occur if it does. Even very strong swimmers are unlikely to survive in freezing water.

This video was not produced by Health for Under 5s and may contain adverts.

Useful links

CAPT – Winter safety

NHS – Keep warm keep well

Page last reviewed: 27-10-2021

Next review due: 27-10-2024