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Baby, it’s cold outside

Practical advice for keeping your kids warm while playing outside — including tips from local parents
Jamie McGarvey
Contributing writer

Anyone who’s lived in Chicago knows the winter weather can be downright frightful. However, the outdoors can still be delightful for you and your family as long as you’ve got the basics — hands, feet and heads — covered.

According to Dr. Andy Sagan, pediatrician at Swedish Covenant Hospital, the cold weather shouldn’t be a reason to keep the kids indoors.

“So as long as you are keeping your children’s hands and heads covered and feet warm and dry, it should be okay to play outside regardless of the temperature,” he said.

And, he said, the idea that people are more likely to catch an illness from being outdoors in wintery weather is a fallacy.

“You have to be around a germ to catch a germ, which means your children are more likely to catch a cold by playing at an indoor playground or at their friend’s house than being outside,” he said.

While catching an illness isn’t a worry for heading outdoors, hypothermia or frostbite can be if the child is not dressed warmly with fingers and toes protected.

“We don’t see frostbite very often, but it can happen,” Sagan said. “Older children in their tweens and teens are more likely to shed their hats and gloves and then get caught up in an outdoor activity and not realize they’ve been exposed to chilly weather too long. It’s important that parents of older children help them understand they need to protect themselves while being outside.”

Parents of infants need to take extra precautions when bringing baby outdoors in the cold weather.

“Infants do not have the ability to regulate their temperature when they become too cold or too hot,” Sagan said. “With their heads larger in proportion to their small bodies, they must be wearing hats to prevent excessive heat loss. Their small fingers, noses and toes are more likely to freeze, so extra care is needed, but you can still bring them out as long as they are fully protected from the wind and cold.”

Hats and gloves and boots, oh my! Warm tips from Chicago parents

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the rule of thumb for babies and young children is to dress them in one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions. But how do you get your child to dress appropriately for winter in Chicago? Jamie Quinlan, Portage Park resident and mom of three boys under the age of four, said they have a simple rule — if they don’t have their hats and gloves on, they don’t leave the house.

“My boys are used to the rule now so it’s not an issue, but when they were babies I would pick hats that couldn’t be pulled off so easily,” she said. “The best ones for us were hats that fastened under the chin or elastic around the brim.”

Jefferson Park resident Liza Teodoro, mom of two girls, ages 4 and 5, says she let her girls choose their own hats.

“They picked out hats from Cozee Critters — different animals and cute colors — and they love to wear them,” she said.

For gloves, they stockpile cheap stretchy gloves for everyday and keep fleece mittens at the ready for when the temperatures dip below freezing.

Ruth Hickey, Lincoln Park resident who has an 11-year-old son, says a pair of warm waterproof and comfortable boots is her critical winter item.

“Cold wet feet turn my son into a big whiner,” she said. “So if the boots are comfortable for him, he’ll wear them.”

The all-essential hats and gloves are not easy for an 11-year-old to hang onto, so it’s important to have multiples of these items.

“I don’t even bother with a scarf — one more item to be left on the playground. I just find coats that zip up to his chin and then we’re all set,” Ruth said.

For additional tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics on preventing frostbite and hypothermia, check out their Winter Safety Tips.

Parents, what are your winter weather tips?