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  • Writer's pictureShannon Bhatia

What to keep in mind with toddler swim vests and floaties

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

  1. Toddler swim vests hold swimmers upright, in a vertical position - contrary to how they swim or float

  2. Puddle jumpers promote incorrect swimming form

  3. Floaties can create a false sense of security

Head to the pool this summer and you're likely to see plenty of kids in a variety of flotation devices. They come in all shapes and sizes, and the temptation for parents is undeniable to slip them on and feel a sense of security. We'll break down the differences between them here, and help you understand the risks associated with each one.

1. Toddler swim vests hold swimmers in an upright position in the water

Toddler swim vests look like life jackets with zippers or clasps in the front. They're marketed as "learn to swim" or "swim training" vests and are not Coast Guard-approved life jackets, so they won't function as a lifesaving device in open water.

Swim vests are a slimmed down version of the life jacket. They keep the head above water - but that wasn't designed for use in pool swimming. Traditional life jackets were created to keep the head above water in the case of an accident in open water. To learn the ways that the body moves through water, these swim vests will teach swimmers that the upright position is the safe and the default way to be in the water. Once these come off, they'll be accustomed to an upright position in the water at the highest risk of drowning. This is contradictory to how they'll learn to swim, and takes quite a bit of time to unlearn.

2. Puddle jumpers promote incorrect swimming form

Puddle jumpers are essentially arm floaties that strap around a swimmer's chest and connect in the back. They look like a chic corset with cap sleeves - a core float with arm floaties. They're Coast Guard-approved as a Type III personal flotation device, which means they're intended for pool swimming and can't be used as a lifesaving device, like a life jacket.

Puddle jumpers encourage doggie paddle. They'll pop the head and chest above water while the legs and arms are powering down below the surface. The natural swim position learned during lessons is the opposite - the head stays down to keep the body afloat on the surface.

The same water phobia will come as a result of using these, as it will keep the head and face dry during swim time. When they come off, the positions learned by using these will put swimmers at risk of drowning.

3. False sense of security and water phobia

One of the first and most basic skills that we introduce during lessons is around getting faces wet. If a swimmer becomes confident and comfortable with water around their eyes, nose, and mouth, they're on their way to develop the tools to safely navigate the water. All of the flotation devices are designed to keep heads out of the water - this is a band-aid for a lack of knowledge, and an unreliable one at that.

Swimmers will take time and face difficulty to unlearn the postures and phobias that come with exclusively being in the water with these devices. Make sure that if you're using them, it's done sparingly and always keep eyes on the water - flotation devices never substitute for swim skills and supervision.

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