Here's what a swim safety expert wishes more parents knew about floaties, swim vests and water wings.
Many children don't have formal swimming lessons—instead, kids rely on a toddler swim vest, puddle jumpers or other flotation devices to swim. While they can help to keep kids afloat, it's important to remember that there are risks associated with these devices.
The reality is that drowning is the #1 cause of accidental death for children ages 1-4 years old—and 88% of drownings occur with at least one adult present. From holding kids in a vertical position to creating a false sense of security, flotation devices do not ensure that your child can swim properly.
Here are 5 reasons to be extra careful when using toddler swim aids in the pool this summer:
1. Toddler swim vests hold kids upright in a vertical position—contrary to how they swim or float
Toddler swim vests, which look like life vests with a zipper or clasps in the front, are often marketed as "learn to swim" or "swim training" vests and are not Coast Guard-approved life jackets.
Swim vests hold children in an upright position in the water. But what many parents don't realize is that the vertical position is a drowning position.
By wearing a swim vest, children are taught that to swim you must remain vertical, which is both incorrect and dangerous. When a child tries to swim without the flotation device, muscle memory will force them into an upright position in the water, at a higher risk of drowning.
That's why it's so important that children learn the proper position to swim and float from an experienced professional rather than from a "swim aid device" to prevent the risk of drowning.
2. Puddle jumpers prevent kids from learning how to swim properly
Puddle jumpers, which are basically arm floaties that strap around a child's chest and clip in the back, look like a combination of arm floaties and a life jacket. They are Coast Guard-approved as a Type III personal flotation device, which means they are designed for swimming in the pool and cannot turn a child's face up in event of an emergency.
Puddle jumpers, however, result in children developing an inefficient and incorrect swimming posture. When using puddle jumpers, kids are most likely to bicycle their legs and arms in order to propel themselves through the water. By doing so, they're using lots of energy which they can't sustain when they're swimming by themselves.
Also, puddle jumpers do not teach kids to reach in front of them to start a swimming stroke. The swimming stroke is an essential part of the swimming process since it helps kids develop breathing techniques and controls the amount of energy spent. Not learning the key swimming postures puts children in danger of serious injury and even drowning.
3. Toddler swim vests can create a false sense of security
Puddle jumpers, toddler learn-to-swim vests, and even arm floaties create a false narrative for both children and adults.
For children, flotation devices create a false sense of confidence that they can swim when in actuality, they can't. If they've only been in the water with flotation devices on and they've never been taught correct swimming postures, they do not know how to swim, but they don't know it. So when the opportunity presents itself, children are more likely to go into the water without their flotation devices, thinking they can swim on their own.
For parents, flotation devices create a false sense of safety. They think their child is safe because of the device and may let their guard down and be less vigilant when it comes to watching their child. After all, they're just having fun, right? But children who rely on flotation devices don't know how to swim properly—and if the floaties are taken off, drowning can occur in as little as 20 seconds.
Parents shouldn't rely solely on arm floaties, puddle jumpers or even a swim vest to help children swim. Instead, children should learn how tohold their breath underwater, flutter kick, back float, and even tread water. That way, they can swim safely and properly.
4. Toddler swim devices are not durable
Another reason why flotation devices shouldn't be trusted is because they're not durable. They can easily fail without warning. For example, toddler floaties could be snagged on the edge of the pool or be punctured by a sharp rock, causing them to deflate.
Water wings can slide off of a child's arms, and belts on a puddle jumper can come released if not fastened tightly. Flotation devices are not 100% reliable. Most packages of floaties for kids even come with standard warnings like: "While in use never leave your child unattended."
While flotation devices are marketed as a must-have for children, they're not completely sturdy or safe. In fact, some are even made with cheap materials.
5. Flotation devices contribute to water phobia
Flotation devices also contribute to water phobia because most of them prevent water from touching a child's face. If children aren't used to water on their faces, they can develop a fear of getting their faces wet, and may react in a dangerous way when it happens.
Especially in an emergency situation, if water hits their face, a child may panic or freeze in the water. Also, they might not be able to help themselves due to the fear and panic experienced by the water.
Make sure your child is taught the correct way to swim
You might want to steer clear of those patterned floaties or that cute, brightly colored toddler swim vest. Devices like those are not a secure way for kids to swim. Instead, they pose an increased danger to young kids.
In fact, flotation devices teach kids an incorrect swimming posture and give kids a false sense of confidence. As a beginner swimmer, all kids should learn from a swim instructor. In a swim class, kids can learn swim strokes, water safety skills and how to hold their breath underwater—and they'll have fun while they do it.
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