It’s that time of year again, when we all start hitting the pools, and the lifeguard in me starts fuming when I see kids bobbing around in the pool in water wings, life vests and suits with flotation inserts.
Why? As a former swim coach, instructor, pool manager, and lifeguard, I can tell you that putting these things on your kids at the pool is one of the most dangerous things you can do. Putting flotation devices on a child does two harmful things:
1. It gives children a false sense of confidence. They start to believe that they can swim independently, and they don’t learn how to float on their own.
2. It gives parents a false sense of confidence. I know it’s way easier to throw a life vest on your child at the pool so that you can sit on the deck and catch up with your friends or relax on a lawn chair. But until your child is water safe, you need to get your rear end in the pool. I don’t care if it’s going to mess up your hair or makeup, you haven’t shaved in weeks, or if you hate the way you look in a swimsuit. Until your child is completely water safe, your number one job at the pool is to be in the water with your child helping them learn how to float, kick, use their arms, and blow bubbles.
What I see at local pools time after time is parents putting flotation devices on their children as a replacement for direct adult supervision in the water. I can’t tell you how many times I notice that I am the only adult swimming in the water with my children, as these kids in floaties bob and float around me and their parents are engaged in conversation or looking at their phones on the deck many feet away.
This is absolutely unacceptable, my friends.
I know, I’m being a total scrooge, but hear me out.
When your child learns that they can get in a pool without you, they don’t realize that they can’t swim without the floaties. They think they can swim. This provides the opportunity for them to choose to enter a body of water when you’re not around, which can have deadly consequences. Water wings force the child into a vertical swim position, which is the most inefficient way to swim. Children need to learn how to swim and float horizontally. In fact, if a child jumps in with water wings on, those water wings can slide down to their hands and actually HOLD THEM UNDER WATER. Life vests are marginally better for body position, but are still just a crutch for a parent that isn’t within an arm’s reach.
Your child needs to learn some key things about water safety:
1. NEVER to get in the water without an adult. No exceptions.
2. Their source of flotation is their own or from the assistance of an adult. No inflatable tubes, noodles, etc.
3. If a toy or a friend or a pet falls into a pool or a hot tub, they must find an adult to help them.
I know some of you are thinking, but I will just teach my child they can’t get in without the flotation devices.
No. Just stop. Your child needs to learn how to swim. We live in an area where we have many bodies of water. Learning to swim is more important than riding a bike or any other sport you may consider. It is a survival skill. Your child needs to know how to self rescue if they fall into a pool or a body of water. How? By floating, and getting themselves back to the wall to get out. They don’t learn this bobbing around in a life preserver. They learn to be water safe by swimming under the direct supervision of an adult.
In fact, if you’re planning to go to the pool this summer and your child is not yet water safe, invest in some swim lessons. Kids ages 2+ are ready to learn how to swim and float in the water. Younger than that, you don’t really need lessons — they just need water familiarization with hands-on adult supervision.
Here are some great resources for swim lessons:
The one exception to the no flotation device rule is in large bodies of water like the ocean, lakes or rivers. In this situation, a Coast Guard certified life vest that is appropriate for your child’s size and weight is definitely a great way to keep them safe. But I encourage you to stay within an arm’s reach, which enforces the rule that until they are water safe, they must be with an adult. Period.
So what is water safe? It’s when a child can swim independently, float, get out of the pool, and is completely comfortable in the water. Only then is it OK to relax the rule of not being within an arm’s reach. After years of paying my dues of being in the water with my kids at hundreds (seriously, maybe thousands) of pool outings, my kids are now water safe. They’re both on swim team, and are truly at home in the water. Before I relaxed my rule of an arm’s reach, I made sure they could independently swim laps, float and tread water. So you may see me sitting on the deck of the pool this summer occasionally, but my eyes will still be on the pool. I am my kids’ own personal lifeguard. I will never trust another lifeguard with their life, as you never know when another swimmer may grab onto them or they could hit their head and start to drown.
Another pool rule that I’m a bit neurotic about is the “no running on deck” rule. There is something about a pool that just makes kids want to run. Pool decks are slippery, and I have seen a kid fall and literally crack their head open, gushing blood and having to be evacuated to a hospital on a backboard via ambulance. So please, forgive me if I happen to tell your kid to stop running on the deck. The lifeguard in me just can’t help it.
And by the way, I bet you’ll have more fun being in the pool than sweltering on the deck. Remember — water wings are the devil!
Lynnette’s List of Recommended Pool Toys and Accessories:
Finis goggles seem to be the best fit for little one’s faces
Ultra Swim shampoo will help you prevent chlorine damage to your child’s hair
Long sleeved rash guards (we live in the high desert, y’all, this is the best way to protect kids’ skin)