Younger children are more susceptible to cold for a simple reason: Their smaller bodies lose heat rapidly. Younger children also are less likely to actually realize they’re getting cold, which means the job of keeping them warm (and knowing the signs it’s time to go inside) falls to parents.
Here’s how to make sure your kids are not too hot, not too cold, but just right—which is especially important during cold weather.
Winter Rule #1: Even for babies, layering is the way to go.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers this rule of thumb for winter weather dressing: Put babies and children in one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions. That’s because pockets of air between clothing layers actually help trap heat. Layering also allows kids to remove a jacket or sweater, instead of choosing between being overheated or freezing. (In other words, don’t just throw on a parka over those PJs!)
Winter Rule #2: But not too many layers…
See the rule of thumb above. Layering your child with too much outerwear can actually make them colder. That’s because excess layers can cause your child to sweat, which makes their clothes wet, which allows the cold and wind to bring their temperature down.
Winter Rule #3: Learn layering 101.
There are three basic layers you should know—and materials that are good for each. While it can seem overwhelming if you’re not, say, an alpine climber, it’s not as difficult as it seems. Here are the basics you need to know:
1. Base layers (the layer right next to your child’s skin)
- What it does: wicks moisture
- Materials to look for: wool or synthetic fabric such as polyester
- The right fit: snug
2. Middle layers (goes over the base layer)
- What it does: insulates
- Materials to look for: wool, down, or fleece
- The right fit: close to body without restraining movement
3. Outer layer (the outermost layer)
- What it does: protects your child from rain, snow, and wind
- Materials to look for: a waterproof jacket or shell; outerwear that’s also breathable (such as those made from Gore-Tex) are key if your child will be physically active
- The right fit: allows easy movement and has plenty of room for layers
Winter Rule #4: Nix the cotton.
You know that jeans and cotton pants absorb rain and snow, but even in cold, dry conditions, cotton absorbs sweat. And wet cotton + cold weather=very cold kids. If it’s cold out, it’s best to avoid cotton altogether.
Winter Rule #5: Fingers, toes, and faces need extra TLC.
According to kidshealth.org, your child’s head, face, ears, hands, and feet are most prone to cold exposure and frostbite, so keep your eye on these extremities. Heavy, non-cotton socks, waterproof boots, waterproof gloves, a scarf, and a hat all are key to keeping everyone truly warm on cold days. For very cold weather, earmuffs and facemasks add extra protection.
Winter Rule #6: Make sure clothes (still) fit.
As tempting as it is to squeeze those tootsies into last year’s bootsies, feet need room to wiggle. Shoes and jackets that are too tight can limit circulation, contributing to cold limbs.
Winter Rule #7: Pack a dry bag.
You know that it’s always good to have extra clothes on hand for kids. In the winter, extra clothes are essential. One jubilant splash in a puddle or one wet (or lost) mitten and not only could your day of fun be done, but you could set your kids up for a case of frost nip. Pack a cold-clothes emergency kit with extra gloves, socks, pants, and shirt.
Winter Rule #8: Know when to head inside.
Frostbite starts as a frost nip—red and tingly skin that has been exposed to cold air or snow. If you notice frost nip on cheeks, fingers or anywhere—or if your child’s teeth start to chatter—it’s definitely time to head for a warm place.
Winter Rule#9: Always have cocoa in your pantry.
Okay, it’s not really a rule. But does anything taste better than a cup of hot chocolate after a jaunt in the cold?