Every summer without fail many moms visit their local Target store to purchase those inflatable floaties or “puddle jumpers” for their children. We understand that the purchase of these devices give moms and nannies a sense of security however as you will see, they often lead to a false sense of security. This false sense of security has attributed to drownings that could have been prevented. Our goal is not to mom shame anyone but rather to highlight the dangers of such devices.
The devices are not to be used as standalone drowning prevention aids and no child should be allowed be to swim alone without direct adult supervision. If you are one of those parents who allows your children to swim unsupervised or to swim alone with siblings is a dangerous practice that could potentially lead to a tragedy! Just don’t do it!
There are two types of flotation devices that are commonly seen in the swimming pool setting. The first is the oldest device that has been around forever which is the inflatable plastic floaties and then there is the modern puddle jumper type of flotation device. Both can be very useful tools however nothing will ever replace the most valuable tool which is swimming lessons that focus on survival techniques for children.
Our least favorite of the devices is the plastic arm floaties. Every time we see a mom or nanny putting these on a child, we will reach into our equipment bag to offer them a PFD or a puddle jumper. Anything but the inflatable arm floaties! We will then encourage these moms to consider enrolling their children into quality swim lessons.
The main problem with the plastic inflatable floaties is that they are prone to failure. We have witnessed these types of devices fail through the release of air due to a hole or rip in the material which is typically a low grade thin plastic or vinyl type of material. This will cause the floaties to deflate and that spells trouble! When they deflate, they inhibit the child’s ability to move or to use their arms. Deflation or failure is very dangerous for those kids who do not know how to swim as that is the only thing keeping them afloat!
Secondly, we have also seen them slip off a child’s arms. We have seen this when kids jump into the pool and the force of the landing causes the floaties to slip off. The material is very slippery when wet so the likelihood of slippage is very high. In recent years, some manufacturers seeing this problem decided to use a cloth material over the air bladder to prevent this slippage. No matter what anyone does, we will never endorse the inflatable arm floaties. In our professional opinion, the inflatable floaties are the worst thing that can be purchased for a non-swimming child. We discourage their use! Also, keep in mind that it is a “one size fits all” type of device and may not fit properly.
The second device is one that we prefer over the inflatables but only when used with adult supervision. The puddle jumper is a device that is attached to the child’s arms and spans across the chest with a locking buckle in the back. The man difference is the material used is closed cell foam for flotation. There is no chance of failure or deflation.
We have to admit that the puddle jumper type of device has become better over the years but no matter how good or effective these devices are, they do present some serious problems and challenges that need to be addressed in the pool setting. In some instances, these devices have contributed to non-fatal and fatal drownings.
Regarding both devices, we have seen many children who have become attached and reliant on these flotation devices for pool time.
These devices subconsciously train your children to be in an upright, vertical position in the water. It trains them to swim with their head out of the water and their legs kicking below. It creates muscle memory to have this posture in the water. Young children believe this is how they “swim” and they do not have the cognitive abilities to recognize that without this device. They would not be able to swim in this position. Without the device, the position they display is known as the “drowning position” which every lifeguard has learned to recognize.
When a child feels comfortable in the water, they feel safe and it creates a sense of security. They develop a false confidence. They are having fun “floating” around the pool and the main problem with these devices fosters the belief that they can “swim”. Even worse, it makes them think that they can swim independently of mom or dad watching. They have a feeling of being safer than they really are. Without this device, they would not be able to swim independently in the pool. Also, toddlers do not have the cognitive capabilities to understand that they need the device to float in the pool.
We have witnessed the very scenario as described above and if we had not seen it for ourselves, a child’s life would have been very different pending the outcome however we were quick enough to see it as it was happening. Kids can be very quick and we have seen moms take off the puddle jumpers, turn their backs to see the child running back towards the pool. This is the danger we are talking about in terms of that conditioning where non-swimming kids believe they can “swim”.
So again, we are encouraging moms to enroll kids in reputable and quality swim schools so that the muscle memory of using the floatation devices can be corrected and eradicated. This will prevent drownings!