Swim Safety Tips with Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

4-16 months

May 18, 2021

Wondering how to safely enjoy your time by the pool or beach this summer with small children? In this blog post, I’m sharing some tips from Holly Choi of Safe Beginnings. Holly is a nationally certified first aid instructor who’s focused on infant and toddler safety, especially near water.

Holly is a mom of two young children and she lives with the same challenges that you and I face—keeping our kids safe on a daily basis, especially around water. In this post, we’ll discuss swim gear like floats, life jackets, swim lessons, and pool fences.

Why Life Jackets Are Necessary

Ideally, we want our infants and toddlers to enjoy pool time and avoid living in fear, but we need to be super aware of the dangers of the pool so they can splash around safely. It’s hard for parents to navigate this because you see all the fun water gear, but is it all safe? Simply put, anything that is not a life jacket is a pool toy. That doesn’t make it unsafe per se, but nothing can replace adult supervision in the pool. Many floaties can deflate, slip off your child’s arm, or degrade over time.

These float devices are perfectly fine under adult supervision at the pool, but for a lake or open body of water, Holly would definitely recommend a life vest that is designed to help your child float to their back. If a child isn’t within arm’s reach, then a life vest is best.

Holly also recommends brighter-colored swimsuits. It is much easier to spot bright colors in a pool or ocean than a blue or navy swimsuit. Both of her daughters wear hot pink swimsuits because they are so much easier to spot underwater.

Are Puddle Jumpers Safe?

Let’s chat more about life vests and other floatation devices like Puddle Jumpers. Are Puddle Jumpers, which are widely available and popular, safe? While Holly thinks Puddle Jumpers are fine when your children are within arm’s reach, an adult really needs to be available to grab the child in a dangerous situation. The biggest concern is if you are in a situation, like a lake house where you are in and out of the water and your child is wandering around the area. In that situation, it is much safer for your child to wear a life vest continuously.

As adults, it is really easy to let your guard down subconsciously. We aren’t 100% perfectly cable of supervising our children. We get distracted by other adults, children, or situations.

Sometimes we assume other adults are watching our children, but they too can get distracted. Being in arm’s reach really is the best protection against a drowning event.

While Puddle Jumpers are useful, they leave it possible for a child to float face down. Water wings can slide off their arms. The best protection in a water event, in addition to constant supervision, is a life jacket. Life jackets come in all sizes, including for infants.

We do need to be careful when purchasing them online that we get the best life vest. Buying at a store is much safer than buying online because we will know what quality we get. Some life vests are Coast Guard approved—these are worth purchasing even if they are more expensive.

How to Properly Fit a Life Jacket

Life jackets come in all sizes. Infant-sized vests go up to about 30 pounds. Toddler life vests are designed for children between 30-40 pounds. Once they are beyond that, you can shop for a life vest based on your child’s shirt size. A life jacket should fit properly, with all the buckles secure. The smaller sizes include a strap that goes underneath their bottom to keep the life jacket from floating over their heads. To fit correctly, have your child raise their arms straight in the air and gently tug upwards on the life jacket. We want the life vest to stay nice and tight against their body so that their head stays above the water.

So, do you need floatation devices for safe swimming? Ideally, your child would be within your arms so they are safe, but with siblings and other distractions, a simple life vest is ideal. If you are on a budget, consider buying the life vest for the next year at the end of the summer, ready for the next swim season.

Swim Lessons and Pool Fences

Let’s talk about swim lessons—these have so much value. They are fun, a great social activity, build your child’s confidence in the water, and also teach you how to manage a child in the water properly.

While swim lessons are great, they don’t replace life jackets.

Lastly, pool fences. Are they necessary? Yes! The best practice, whether you have kids or not, is to have a fence. Sometimes children wander into a neighbor’s pool. If you have guests staying with you, it can also be a concern. Some areas in North America require a fence whether you have kids or not in your home. Fences should be at least 4 feet tall and the slats in between and underneath should be less than 4 inches so children can’t slide through.

Additionally, there should always be a fence surrounding the whole pool. For example, it is easy to leave a sliding door open during the summer for airflow, which can enable a child to escape and fall in the pool.

Looking for a contractor to install a pool fence? You can visit https://www.iafcs.org/, enter your zip code, and the International Association for Child Safety can direct you to a good pool fence installer.

While life vests and pool fences are helpful for keeping children safe, they are never a substitute for adult supervision. Holly personally prefers to assign who is responsible for watching the kids while they are swimming. This helps reduce that “loosening of our guard” and subconsciously assuming someone else is watching. We want you and your family to have fun in the water this summer and, hopefully, these tips will keep you and your family safe.

You find out more about Holly of Safe Beginnings at @safebeginnings on Instagram. Her main Instagram account is about infant and child CPR, choking, and injury prevention.

Would you rather listen to this discussion? Be sure to check out my conversation with Holly on our podcast.

Sweet dreams. See you next time.


Swim safety tips for infants, babies and toddlers | Little Z Sleep

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