PUDDLE JUMPERS: To use, or not to use?

When starting to write this, I really struggled with the outline of “pros vs. cons” because of my experience. I religiously used a puddle jumper on CJ when swimming and yet, my child drowned. As a result of my reliance on his flotation device, I deprived him from learning skills that could have saved his life so to say that there are “pros” to using these devices is a really challenging statement, BUT I have been there so I can speak to why parents use them. Let’s get into it!

Let’s look at why puddle jumpers and things alike are appealing to parents and kids.

They are easy to use.

  • With a quick zip and a buckle, your child is equipped with a device that will hold their face out of the water.

Although easy to rely on a device during swim times, what isn’t considered is the fact that nearly 70% of all drowning accidents happen during non-swim times, and therefore, your child would not have their floatie on.

Kids can independently move through the water.

  • Kids can bob around in the water on their own and don’t need to be held the entire time. An added bonus for parents with multiple children.

Unfortunately, the posture that your child is forced to be in while wearing puddle jumpers is the exact position of drowning victims. A vertical posture in the water is the worst position to be in when you need air. Swimming, and more importantly, floating posture, is horizontal. Children who are used to being in flotation devices have no concept of their own buoyancy in the water, and muscle memory for a poor posture in the water.

They contribute to fun in the water.

  • Kids don’t have to work hard or keep their face in the water. They can jump in and come back up to the surface immediately.

This is a cultural issue! The water has been branded as a fun recreational activity, and not to say that it isn’t, but the priority needs to shift to safety before fun. Too many children are lost each year because they have no self-rescue skills or respect for the water. Young children are not able to identify that the flotation device is what is doing all the work. This false of security for the child is reinforced when we praise them for “swimming” when wearing these devices. For example, if your toddler can walk while holding on to something or using a walker, but cannot walk otherwise, they cannot walk. The same goes for swimming.

Less to worry about in the water.

  • Parent’s can worry less about going in the deep end or water over the child’s head. A child will be less likely to be pulled or pushed under the water where multiple kids are playing.

Less worry means less involvement. It’s all too common for parents to develop an over reliance on these devices and altogether stop getting into the water with their kids because they were wearing flotation devices, and in turn, children are learning that they do not need an adult to be in the water with them. Touch supervision or within arm’s reach of your children is the safest approach. Not being in the water contributes to out of water distractions. Additionally, as a result, parents are less likely to provide children with the opportunity to learn how to swim and float on their own.

Marketing and advertisement.

  • Labels like “learn to swim aid” makes parents feel like they are providing a skill to their kids.

When you know about the dangers of using puddle jumpers and devices like them, it’s hard not to have hard feelings towards companies who are trying to make money off them, all the while when children are becoming severely injured or having fatal accidents because of not knowing how to actually swim and survive in the water. No matter how many times you put your child into one of these devices, it is never going to magically teach them how to swim. In fact, they are teaching your child how to get in the drowning position.

In a nutshell, I would describe the use of flotation devices in pools as a temporary fix that should not be used as part of regular water safety. While I would love to see where these devices are banned from every water facility and activity, realistically, I can understand why they are used in certain pool scenarios. For example, at a highly populated or busy pool, even with lifeguards, it is a huge challenge to be able to always see everything and everyone. Drowning is silent and it happens so quickly so I can see why facilities want to implement these measures. That is a lot of liability for these places to have. Having said that though, water is everywhere and rather than relying on a device, empower your kids to learn these skills without using a device. The biggest issue with these devices is the over reliance on them and the skills that do not get prioritized by using them. You truly never know when or how a child may end up in the water and need self-rescue skills. Learning how to float is an essential, lifesaving skill and it’s incredible that children as young as 6 months can learn how to do this. It is an all-too-common scenario where a group of children are gathered for a party and are using flotation devices and during a break time when other activities are going on, a small child slips out of the crowd and makes their way back to the water, only this time, they don’t have their device that they have unknowingly relied on all day.

So, is all flotation bad? Absolutely not. In open water, at lakes, beaches, rivers, and on boats, it is 100% recommended to use a US Coast Guard approved life jacket. Side note: The USCG approves the use of personal flotation devices (PFD) for on vessel use (not for their use in a pool setting). Additionally, if you are going to use a flotation device, or rather, a toy, choose one that is not going to promote that vertical posture. There are plenty of fun options that provide a closed seated space, or a mesh bottom that allows for some water. These should always be used while supervising and an adult should remain within arm’s reach.

What is recommended instead of using puddle jumpers and flotation devices?

  • Multiple layers of protection are recommended to prevent a water emergency.

Lapses in supervision are a normal part of parenting, and unfortunately when water is apart of the equation, additional layers are also needed to protect our children. Additional layers of protection include adding high locks on windows/doors; alarms on windows and doors; a pool fence that isolates the water from any other activities (mesh is best, and it should be at least 4 feet high); a gate that is self-closing and self-latching; pool alarms and safety nets/covers; enrolling your children in survival swim lessons. Additionally, as layers of protection, knowing where all the water is around you (including unsuspecting areas such as buckets, retention ponds, pet bowls, toilets, etc..) and learning how to perform CPR can help save lives.

  • High quality swim lessons.

There are many different styles and methodologies when it comes to swim lessons. When choosing what is best for your family, it is a good idea to ask yourself what the goal for lessons are. If it is to keep your child safe by learning how to float and self-rescue, make sure that you are choosing a program that is going to do this. If your child needs a flotation device after lessons, then they are in the wrong kind of swim lessons. By choosing a high-quality swim instructor, you lower the risk for a drowning accident by 88%. Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) is a company that certifies instructors to teach babies and young children how to survive in the water. If you choose a more traditional style of lessons, make sure that safety is still the priority and that they are going to focus on teaching your child how to float and/or get to the pool exits.

Cost can be a common deterrent for not getting swim lessons. There are numerous nonprofit organizations who have made it a part of their mission to reduce the cost or provide scholarships to families who are unable to afford lessons. To view a list of current nonprofits that share this mission you can visit www.parentspreventingchildhooddrowning.com.

  • Get in the water.

As mentioned previously, getting in the water reinforces that our children need us before they enter the water. Hold them and/or always remain within arm’s reach of them. If your child is in swim lessons, talk to their instructor about what you can do with them in the water.

  • Use sprinklers, splash pads, and water tables instead!

Sometimes with multiple children it is a safer option to go with a fun alternative water activity.

  • Designate a water watcher.

Often an emergency can happen when multiple adults assume that someone else is watching. To prevent this from happening, clearly identify the adult that is watching the water, or specific child. Segmented supervision can be utilized for this as well, where adults take shifts. A lanyard, hat, or shirt can be used to designate that person as the undistracted adult that is responsible for watching the water.

To wrap this up, I want to encourage you to start thinking about water safety outside of swim times. And while so much more research is needed, a lot has been done that has provided us with more information on what true water safety looks like. Do yourself a favor and educate yourself on drowning prevention and water safety. When we know better, we can do better, and in turn, we save little lives from a water emergency. Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1-4 and no one thinks it will happen to them.

Using puddle jumpers may seem harmless and easy, but I really encourage you to think more critically and take into consideration of the skills and experiences that you take away from your children by not pursuing high quality swim lessons.

No one is ever drown proof, but we can do more to prevent these kinds of accidents from happening. It isn’t enough to say that supervision is enough and if you are the parent who thinks that it will never happen to you, you are at the highest risk for it to happen!

Written by: Dana Foland