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Brrr, It’s Cold! Six Tips for Dressing Your Kids for Cold Weather

For some of us, we revel in cooler temperatures. The very idea of being able to pull out your winter jackets, boots and scarfs can bring joy. But for your kids, that might not be the case.

That winter beanie? Tossed in the corner. Puffy jacket? Nope, unzipping that. Mittens? Forget about it! It may seem like part of just keeping your child warm in the wintertime is figuring out a way for them to just keep their clothes on! Dressing your baby might be easy, but it can be a real struggle with more opinionated children.

While you don’t want to send your child outdoors looking like Randy in “A Christmas Story” (Remember: “I can’t put my arms down!”?), you also don’t want to let them to freeze like Anna in “Frozen”.

We spoke with Daniel Bates, MD, physician lead at Banner Urgent Care, to get six tips to help you keep your cool and your child feel warm and safe this winter.

#1: Remember the “you plus one” rule

Dr. Bates favorite general tip for dressing little ones in cold weather is the “you plus one” rule. This means whatever you feel comfortable in at a certain temperature, add one more layer for your child.

“We lose body heat through the surface of our bodies,” Dr. Bates said. “Children have a higher ratio of surface area to internal mass, which means they lose heat at a faster rate than adults. This means they need more protection from the cold.”

For example: If you’re in a long-sleeved shirt and winter jacket, your child in a stroller should also have a long-sleeved shirt, coat AND a medium weight blanket, such as a fleece blanket or a quilted blanket.

#2 Learn to be a layering pro

Layers allow pockets of air between clothing layers to help trap heat and keep kids warm. Layering also allows kids to remove a jacket or sweater when they are too warm to avoid sweating.

Much like Tip #1, you’ll want to make sure your child is in one extra layer than you, but you also want to make sure you are layering appropriately. Dressing for a blustery ski day may be very different than hiking and sledding on a sunny winter day. A good cold weather clothing guide is to think in terms of three layers:

First layer (the one closest to their skin): Start off with a snug, lightweight, moisture-wicking material. Think long johns. They are snug but not restrictive. Stay away from cotton as it retains moisture from sweat, which can make your child cold and clammy.

Second layer: The mid-layer should insulate (keep them warm), so consider a medium weight fleece jacket, wool sweater or jumper.

Third layer: The last layer is one of the most important as it will help protect your child from wind, rain and snow. Look for a heavier waterproof jacket and snow pants with bibs.

#3 Don’t forget a hat, gloves, socks and boots

When it’s cold outside, your child’s head, ears, hands and feet are most prone to cold exposure. Extremely cold weather can cause two potentially serious conditions: hypothermia and frostbite. To ensure they stay toasty and warm, make sure you have heavy socks, waterproof boots, waterproof gloves, a scarf and hat and/or ear muffs on hand depending on changes in weather.

“Infants below the age of one, should always be wearing a hat in cold weather,” Dr. Bates said. “Newborns should be wearing a hat and long sleeve onesies even while inside during really cold weather, as they can lose significant heat from their heads.”

For older children and toddlers, have them wear a hat and gloves when the weather is 40°F or lower. If you as an adult have cold hands, feet and ears, your child definitely needs a hat and gloves. Opt for waterproof gloves rather than fleece or cotton, which can get wet and lose their ability to retain heat.

#4 Plan ahead for the exit strategy … bathroom breaks

At some point your little one will have to go to the bathroom or will need a diaper change. And if they are potty training, you know seconds count! Whether 2 months or 10 years old, make sure you choose clothing that allows for easy on and off. This may mean forgoing buttons and zippers for good old elastic waistbands.

If your child is an infant, keep in mind that you will likely need to remove their clothing to perform a diaper change. You may want to choose clothing that allows you to keep most of your child covered in the event that you have to do a diaper change in a cold area.

“Separate pants and shirt can be a better choice here, as you can change the diaper without exposing the upper portion of the body,” Dr. Bates said. “Keep the same consideration in mind if you have an older child who’s toilet training, as multiple layers can be difficult to get up quickly, and sometimes you don’t have a lot of notice before they need to use the restroom.”

#5 Remove the third layer for car rides

Children should never be placed in a car seat while in a puffy jacket or heavy coat. The heaviest jacket you should have on your child while they are in their car seat would be a medium weight fleece.

“Thick jackets or puffy jackets will create too much room between the straps and your child’s body, and you may not get adequate restraint and safety in a crash,” Dr. Bates said. “When you get them in the car, take off any heavy winter coats, securing your child in their car seat and then place the jacket or coat over the top of them for added warmth.”

[For other helpful car seat guidelines, check out: Important Car Seat Guidelines To Protect Your Baby]

#6 Know when it's time to go inside

Those chilly, rosy cheeks may seem cute at first. However, they can also be a sign of frostnip, the first stage of frostbite. So, consider heading inside if your child's teeth start to chatter or your child's cheeks, chin, ears, fingers - or any other area of exposed skin - start turning red and tingly.

Extra tips!

Here are some last-minute suggestions to keep you and your little one happy during the cold weather months:

  1. Check the weather ahead of time so you can be prepared for the day ahead.
  2. Pack extra clothing, such as pants, gloves, hats, scarves and socks in case your child gets cold or wet.
  3. Don’t forget sunscreen. Just because it’s cold outside, doesn’t mean you can’t get sunburn.
  4. Stock up on hot chocolate. Who doesn’t love some hot cocoa after a walk in the snow?

For more helpful parenting tips, check out:

Parenting Children's Health