When it comes to water safety, floatation devices can be a real life saver. We’ve talked about these before, but today let’s specifically focus on life jackets for toddlers.

Are Life Jackets for Toddlers Really Necessary?

If there’s one drum we repeatedly beat on this safety blog, it’s that drowning is a leading cause of accidental death for children aged one-to-four. To make matters worse, the great majority of these accidents don’t happen when the child is alone or has wandered off. No, believe it or not, 88% of drownings occur when at least one adult was nearby. There are plenty of reasons that tragedies like these occur. It pays to have extra layers of safety in place, just in case of an accident. That’s where life jackets for toddlers come into play. They can mean the difference between life or death.

Many Kids Don’t Know How to Swim

One of the major reasons for the high number of child drownings is simply due to the fact that little kids often don’t know how to swim. It’s true, using a proper floatation device can help to mitigate this danger. However, life jackets for toddlers are no excuse to skip swimming lessons.

There are even Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) classes that can teach survival skills to children from a surprisingly young age. Classes are designed to help even very young children to hold their breath under water, roll over, float, and more. These lessons, combined with a life jacket for toddlers and the attention of a supervising adult, can greatly decrease the risk of tragedy.

Choosing the Right Life Jacket for Toddlers

The rules for picking life jackets for toddlers are similar to choosing one for adults and teens. Be sure to use a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. In case of an accident, these jackets are designed to help keep the individual afloat.

When it comes to picking a life jacket for toddlers, you’ll need to know the child’s weight. For adults, a life jacket is chosen based on chest size. For kids, this is not the case:

  • Infant Life Jackets: 8 to 30 pounds
  • Child Life Jackets: 30 to 50 pounds
  • Youth Life Jackets: 50 to 90 pounds

Above all, you’ll want to make sure to get the right fit and size for your child. It should be snug, but not too tight. Don’t buy a larger life jacket expecting your little one to “grow into it.” That can spell disaster. Basically, it should be tight enough to prevent the life jacket from being lifted over the wearer’s head. For the safest fit, you should not be able to lift the life jacket up to your child’s ears.

Additionally, parents of toddlers should look for some additional safety features, including padded head support to help keep the swimmer’s head propped above the water. A crotch strap can also prevent the life jacket from riding up while in the water. Finally, opt for a life jacket that features brighter colors. These can make it easier to quickly locate the child in the water during an emergency.

Floaties and Life Jackets Are Not Equal

Before we move on, let’s talk about water wings, or “floaties” as they are often called. These common pool items are actually not appropriate floatation devices. In fact, in many situations they can actually increase the danger. Floaties or swimmies often provide a false sense of security for both parents and kids. However, due to poor construction and low durability, it’s quite easy for these to pop.

Additionally, they can teach poor lessons about water safety. Kids should learn how to float on their backs as early as possible. It’s a superb survival skill designed to keep the child’s nose and mouth above the water. Instead, floaties teach kids to remain upright in the water. This can lead to them sinking under the waves in the event of an equipment malfunction.

Both the Mayo Clinic and the CDC warn that water wings will not actually protect your child from drowning. The Mayo Clinic specifically states: “Do not rely on air-filled or foam toys, such as water wings, noodles or inner tubes, to keep children safe.”

Life Jackets Can’t Replace Active Supervision

Life jackets for toddlers can save lives, but they should never replace active supervision. A responsible adult should always keep a close, active eye on any little swimmers. That means no distractions like chatting, texting or reading. When the kids are near the water, they require full attention.