Sledding Safety

Back when we were young twenty-somethings, Tim and a friend decided to go sledding after a huge snowstorm. Who says grown-ups can’t have fun? Back at the house, they laughingly told me how Tim nearly took a header while surfing on the sled. Normally that wouldn’t bother me so much, but we’d just found out that we were expecting our first baby. I remember grumpily saying something about him “having responsibilities now” or some such. It’s a funny story when he tells it, anyway. 

This memory got me thinking about sledding safety. There is a balance between allowing your kids to take reasonable risks in outdoor play and keeping them from doing something stupid. The limit probably varies from kid to kid, but general guidelines can be helpful for the nervous mom. 

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First, let’s think about kids and risk taking. The urge to bubble-wrap kids is a fairly new phenomenon. I’m a fan of the work of Jonathan Haidt and Lenore Skenazy at They promote the idea that it is healthy for kids to take on reasonable risks when parents deem they are ready. They’re talking about risks like walking to the park or making scrambled eggs without direct supervision. The concept translates to risk taking while playing outside. You can see several studies and articles on the research page on their website. 

An interesting article in The Guardian from last year talked about new playgrounds in Germany focused on allowing kids to develop “risk competence.” The trend was largely influenced by a study which found that children who improve their large motor skills on playgrounds in early childhood were less likely to suffer injury from accidents later. 

I realize that it’s a deeper topic than I can explore here. But we can probably be on the same page in that we can’t follow our kids around the sledding hill with a pillow to land on should Little Susie slip and fall. Yet, many of the lists for “sledding safety” I looked at would make Haidt and Skenazy cringe. 

Sledding Essentials

What could be some reasonable expectations for safety while sledding? Here are essential tips that I gleaned from several lists around the internet on sites dedicated to children’s health and safety. 

  1. Dress Warmly: kids are susceptible to frostbite because they’re too busy having fun to notice that they’re freezing.
  2. Sled in an open area: most sledding injuries happen when kids crash into a stationary object. It’s better to sled in an area free from trees, fences, and electrical poles. 
  3. Don’t sled in the street: even if your street is bunker hill and you get wicked air off the curb into the neighbor’s yard.
  4. Don’t sled on a hill with a roadway at the bottom: see rule 3.
  5. Never pull a sled with a moving vehicle.

Some lists I looked at included many more points and suggestions for safety gear. I think the five points here represent the common sense that we all grew up with. It’s good for our kids when we stand back a little and let them develop risk competence. While kids love adventure, they still have self preservation instincts. We can trust those instincts to override most of the really stupid ideas. 

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