Written by: Karina Renaud
Owner of Swim for Life with Karina Renaud and Swim Coach

baby floatingAs we get closer to summer time and pools are opening, I’m often asked what my child should wear as a floatation device outside of lessons. My answer is a life jacket, in and around the pool. You can also swim with your child by holding them. If your child falls into water only the life jacket will roll them on their back and allow them to breath.  

When I had my youngest child I wasn’t aware of the bad habits and potential danger other floatation devices can cause. I too am guilty of having used a swim bubble and water wings. It gave my child some independence in the water and let’s be honest it gave me a break from holding him.

However, as I’ve also seen through my years of teaching, the problem with these float aids is that they gave my child a false sense of security and it created bad swimming habits. With these floatation devices children learn to swim in a vertical position which is very inefficient and they struggle to stay afloat. Once habits form, they are very hard to break. Children should be able to master the fundamental skills by the age of 3 or 4. Unfortunately many children that have learned to swim with these float aids are still struggling to get across a pool at this age.  

The short term benefit that a parent gets is not worth the long term difficulty in correcting these swim habits. Have your child wear a life jacket and let them float around on their back with it. The earlier they get used to the back position the better off they will be in acquiring the necessary floating skills and body position to swim efficiently. If they learn this comfort and horizontal body positioning, any future swim lessons will progress much faster.

If you want the ‘arms free’ time in the water with your young baby (6-18 months) and you have one of those inflatable baby boating seat/chair, make sure you stay focused and vigilant just as if you were holding your child without float aids.  

Between 4-24 months your child is old enough to start learning some important swimming skills and it’s a good time to get them comfortable resting on their back. You can do this with a certified life jacket. Doing so will allow your child to develop the habit, comfort and confidence to be on their backs so they can start floating independently when they are ready.

Put on their life jacket and have them float on their back for some time without kicking. Do it gradually. Put your child on their back for 10 seconds and then hold them upright for 10 seconds. Repeat this exercise as many time as you want. Increase the amount spent on the baby’s back every day you go in the water with her. You might also tell your child we will do the life jacket exercise and then we will get in the “boat” as a reward. Have fun with your child but remember that these floatation ‘learn to swim’ gimmicks will not benefit them in the long run.

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