Parents need all the peace of mind they can get when it comes to ensuring their kids are safe around water. The statistics associated with kids drowning are troubling, to say the least; drowning is the second leading cause of death for one to four-year-olds.
I was slapped in the face with this statistic this summer when I had to jump in a pool to save a drowning child at a birthday party. The pool party featured a beautiful pool with an underwater, elevated lounging area, which proved to provide a false sense of security.
When I arrived with my three-year-old, I noticed that another mom had her toddler in the pool’s lounge area without a life jacket. It made me nervous, but I try not to judge other parents and figured she was keeping a close eye on him. After an hour of swimming, my friend showed up with her son and her newborn. She also had her little one swimming in the lounge area sans life jacket, despite him not knowing how to swim. My son wanted to ride the ponies (it was a petting zoo themed party with real animals- awesome, right?), so I offered my friend his life jacket floaties.
After the pony riding, we did all of the usual birthday party activities- cake, piñata, presents, etc. My little water baby wanted to jump in the pool three more times, and since we don’t have a pool, I obliged. We were the only ones in the pool. He swam for a little. Then we went to the pool house with all our things to get dressed. The party was dying down- guests dispersing. As we came out of the pool house, something caught my eye. I saw movement in the pool. I quickly realized I was looking at a kid’s fingertips moving rapidly above the water. I immediately jumped in- yes, fully clothed. It was my friend’s son. He was already turning blue but was luckily still breathing when I pulled him out. She had let him swim in the lounge area again, this time without my son’s life jacket, while she was feeding her newborn. He went to the edge of the lounge area and fell into the main body of water, unable to touch the bottom. She hadn’t noticed because it happened so quickly and quietly.
I still can’t get the image of his little fingertips and blue-tinted skin out of my mind. This story isn’t meant to scare, but rather to encourage parents to always put their child’s safety first when it comes to swimming. My friend’s son got lucky that day, but many others do not. My story, sadly, isn’t unique. Many parents have experienced drowning scares and tragedies. No toddler is immune to drowning, so it’s crucial to armor them with the appropriate safety gear.
Best Swim Safety Gear for Toddlers:
If you have a toddler who weighs 30-50 pounds, my top choice is the Stearns Puddle Jumper Life Jacket. This doesn’t look like a typical life jacket. My husband describes its appearance as a puffy crop top. They are usually themed and feature a cute animal on the front.
The Puddle Jumpers are US Coast Guard-approved. They’re made with very durable material that dries quickly. It has an adjustable buckle in the back and is extremely user-friendly. My son loves his. It’s comfortable and allows him to swim freely. Even though we call them his “floaties,” it’s actually a life jacket that resemble floaties.
Safety of Floaties for Toddlers
This brings up the question: what is the difference between floaties (aka arm floaties or water wings) and puddle jumper “floaties?” For starters, arm floaties are not recognized as safe flotation devices. Although they are cheap and widely available, they can easily deflate or slip off. They can also give parents a false sense of security. Many are now labeling these floaties as toys. The puddle jumper life jacket “floaties,” on the other hand, do not slip off as they have an adjustment buckle on the back and do not run the same deflation risk as they are not inflated at home. They combine the security of water wings with a floatation pad that supports the chest and attaches to the wings.
Unlike a traditional life jacket, puddle jumpers keep a child’s chin out of the water without forcing them to float on their back. This promotes swimming and allows for security without inhibiting movement.
Best Life Jacket for Toddler Under 30 Pounds:
If your toddler is under 30 pounds, I recommend the Stohlquist Life Vest or the SwimWays Baby Spring Float.
The Stohlquist life vest is US Coast Guard approved. It looks like a traditional life vest that cradles the child’s head and has adjustable straps. This vest is great for boating and available online.
The SwimWays Baby Spring Float comes with a detachable canopy and is perfect for introducing your child to the pool. I used this with my son when he was younger, and he loved it. It was easy to inflate and was pretty stable. It never flipped over, despite my son’s attempts to look all the way over the rim. Some come with toys attached or extra support, so the price ranges from $11 to $39.99.
Get a well fitting life jacket!
Remember, drowning can happen within 30 seconds, so nothing replaces parent supervision. It’s important to have multiple safety measures in place when your toddler is around water. Loose life jackets can actually become drowning hazards, so it’s crucial to get one that fits your little one. I always recommend teaching your child how to float, so they can turn onto their back if they fall into the pool without a life jacket. Swimming should always be fun and safe.