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Flotation Devices: What Is Safe?

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

Flotation devices are EVERYWHERE. They are in so many commercials, ads, and in almost every store, how can they hinder my child's swimming development?

We want to start by saying we know you have great intentions, you want to keep your child safe around water. We want you to know you have the right motivation, and fully encourage you to be safe in aquatic environments. When we discuss flotation devices, we are NOT referring to life jackets. Life jackets are required in open bodies of water in most areas of the United States and are highly encouraged for safety in those environments. We are discussing puddle jumpers, water wings, and other devices used most commonly in pool environments.

As a parent, those devices give you a sense of "security" that your child has extra protection other than you in water. You feel safer knowing they have support and you could probably relax more at the pool knowing that. Unfortunately, your child is also gaining a sense of security from those devices. That security teaches them that they are safe, they can swim just like "the big kids", and gives them false confidence around water.

So, what happens when they slip out of the puddle jumper devices and fight to stay on the surface while you ran quickly to the bathroom? What happens when you have your back turned and your child runs to jump in the pool before they are on and fully fastened? What happens when the left water wing slips off and suddenly your child has no balance in the water as they try to retrieve it? In a majority of situations, panic sets in. Panic for you and panic for your child. You're running to the rescue and your child more often than not becomes sacred of the water as a result.

That security you thought you had when an unexpected situation like those listed above happens, goes completely out the window. Sadly, nobody thinks things like this will ever happen to them. They believe that by buying these devices they are "being safe" but these situations happen everyday. Most drownings are complete accidents and are the second leading cause of child death.

"Every day, about ten people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two will be children aged 14 or younger. Drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury death for people of all ages, and the second leading cause of injury death for children ages 1 to 14 years. In fact, more children 1-4 years die from drowning than any other cause of death except birth defects." - CDC

So what do the flotation devices have to do with my child's swimming progression? Let's start with body level in the water. When children are in these devices, what position are their legs in? They are pointing straight down toward the bottom of the pool so these devices put them in the drowning position. Most, in distress, will have their legs pointing downward fighting to keep their head above water until they lose energy and submerge under the surface. If you look at the body position of someone swimming in the correct body position, their legs will be behind them using their feet to kick and power them through the water. That skill alone could save thousands of lives.

Another major factor in body position is teaching children how to "get air". If a child jumps or falls into a pool face first, they not only need to know how to turn over to get air but also stay afloat until someone can rescue them. All of these skills seem simple enough but swimming lessons are a commitment. It takes time to learn these skills, reinforce them, and make sure the child has fully retained the skills. It's so much easier to teach children these skills when they have the opportunity to build their own confidence as opposed to it being given to them with flotation devices and then taken away in swim class.

Our recommendation is to start your child in swimming classes early on, work with your instructor to find the best class to fit you child's needs. Learn as much as you can from observing your child's classes so you can reinforce the skills they are learning in all aquatic environments you take your child to.

If you go home from swim lessons and take your child to the pool to only put them right back in flotation devices, you are hindering your child's swimming development.

We know your intentions are good and you want to be safe but do consider that it will take your child much longer to retain swimming skills and could create negative feelings towards swimming lessons for your child.

It's a lot like potty training, you don't put your children back in diapers, you continue to reinforce and help them gain that skill. It's a very similar concept with swim lessons and we are here to guide both you and your child through that process.

It's never too late to put your child in swim lessons.

We would love to work with your family this summer!

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