Let's get real about what lifejackets do for your child.
These will prevent your child from drowning, right? Your child would never take it off. They would never go near water unsupervised. No, they won’t grab that toy that fell in. They will always remember to put that life jacket on- and you’ll always be around to be sure. Their life jacket will magically appear when they need it! Nope, Here's what it really does...
Their life jacket teaches them to bob vertically in the water, coincidently the same position that kills children that drown. It gives them a false sense of confidence in and around the water, they learn that if they jump into water they will pop right back up. Their lifejacket restricts proper horizontal body positioning, this is the only way to for a human body to swim, have you ever seen a child try to walk through water? Some life jackets, like puddle jumpers restrict arm motion, meaning your child can not physically remove them selves from a potentially dangerous situation because you buckled a devise on them that wont let them move their arms! They cant paddle, they cant grab taller objects like a wall or water buoy, they cant reach up to grab a ladder or railing. Puddler jumpers are the worst of the worst you guys!
Life jackets DO NOT teach your child how to swim! They don’t even teach them how to be safe in or around water! They teach kids that water isn’t dangerous, they prevent children from learning what water does and how you must respect your bodies limits in it. If you never take that thing off and let your child actually swim, and see what happens when they go under the water, you are just increasing your child’s odds of drowning! Re read that sentence and let that sink in! As parents we instinctively want to protect our children, so even if you’re not ready to give them the best fighting chance for survival by putting them in swimming lessons then PLEASE take it off and work with them in the pool. Drownings are the #1 cause of death for children!
Here's what you do to move forward...
1. At the store: Get a vest style life jacket, not a puddle jumper, not water wings. For children under 2 I would get a vest style that also has a padded neck float-these put little ones into a back float position and supports their neck and heads.
2. At the pool: I tell my clients that are nervous to completely get rid of the life jacket to do 50/50. This is going to take some work on your part as parents. But if the life jacket is on for 10 minutes then you need to spend 10 minutes with it off swimming with your little one in the pool. Have them swim to you, have them jump in. This is crucial in establishing consequences around water. If you jump in- this is what happens (they don't just pop up.) As you get more confident and comfortable working with them start phasing out the life jacket.
3. On a boat: Life jackets are required at all times. This is not where you teach your child to swim. I recommend practicing independence and problem solving- meaning getting to the boats ladder and climbing up on their own.
4. At the beach or lake: Establish rules before anyone gets in the water. Do a mini lesson to go over safety items, an example would be getting in too deep. Children are naturally curious, so take that opportunity to show them what that feels like if they keep going. Don't be afraid to show them what happens! I have so many people reach out about this subject and a common worry is that they aren't comfortable with their child going under. They are going to go under the water, you cant stop it. So be there in the beginning to monitor the situation, and to assist them, before play time is the best time to teach them! Then do what we do at the pool- take the life jacket off in increments, then work on safety skills when its off.
5. Swimming Lessons: I have had to have some pretty stern conversations with clients before, which is why I don't beat around the bush on this subject. So my last tough love statement is this, every time you put a life jacket on your child you are undoing every thing they learned in their swimming lessons. Life jackets do not teach children how to swim, swimming lessons do! Read More about what set's us apart