What About Floaties?

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Floaties seem to be a summertime staple. They have been around for generations and there are many different variations to fit your swimming style. But whenever I see floaties, I cringe.

This is why:

I took a deep water aerobics class. It was fun and a great workout. We wore special buoyancy belts that kept us floating at shoulder level in deep water to allow us to focus on movement rather than staying afloat.

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At the end of the class, I took off the belt and tossed it to the side of the pool. I went to casually sidestroke back, but felt like I was fighting to stay afloat. It was scary! I am a strong swimmer and can tread for a long period of time. Heck, I can haul a guy that’s twice my size across the pool, lifeguard style. But the altered buoyancy had tricked my brain into thinking I just naturally stay at shoulder level in the water. It took a minute to get oriented, but I suffered no lasting effects. So┬áhere’s my question:

If 45 minutes using a buoyancy belt can cancel out a lifetime of swim lessons and lifeguard training, what are flotation devices doing to children who have not experienced water in any other way?

Have you ever seen a “floatie-trained” kid jump into the deep end without his floaties? It gives you a heart attack They can’t even get their head back to the surface of the water and they panic. As well they should…they have never had to hold their head above the water without help. They don’t know what their natural buoyancy is because they’ve never been allowed to experience it.

Using floaties is a substitute (a poor substitute) for guided exploration in the water. As a swim lesson instructor, I noticed a vast difference between children in my class who had parents that actively swam with them and the children who had parents that liked to sit on the side with their feet in the water or chat with their friends while stealing glances to check on their kids.

I AM NOT HERE TO CRITICIZE PARENTING STYLES. I realize every family has their own dynamics and their own view of the water. If you are a parent who would rather socialize and not have to keep a close eye on your kids, by all means, put them in the puddle-jumpers and let them at it. It is better that they are safe.File0207

The biggest factor in your child learning to love the water and be safe is your personal attention and participation as their parent in the learning process. Yeah, it takes effort. You may find it boring. Or tedious. Or intimidating. But your personal involvement will make a big difference. No one knows your child better than you do. You know what they like and what they don’t like. You know if they are by nature a cautious observer or an enthusiastic thrill-seeker. You know the kinds of things that catch their interest. So you know the best way to teach that particular child about the water.

If you do not feel particularly comfortable in the water, you are not alone. The American Red Cross put out a survey and found that “more than half of Americans in 2014 (54%) either can’t swim or don’t have all of the basic swimming skills…that could save their life in the water.”

IMG_4900You may not feel comfortable teaching your child to swim, but you can still help him or her explore and experience the water with you, at a safe depth. (Another thing I hate about floaties…”floatie kids” don’t learn to gauge the depth of the water, or even care about it, because they have no need to find the shallow end or a wall, other than to get out, run to the deep end, and plunge in at a depth their parents would never let them play in without their beloved flotation devices.

There will be a future post about things you can do to help your child understand how to react to the water. Here is one example of something you can do. If you and your child are exploring in shallow water (where they can comfortably walk) chances are, they will at some point stumble, and fall completely under the water…DO NOT FREAK OUT. Even if you are panicking on the inside, calmly put their feet down on the ground, or gently move their submerged torso to a vertical position, and watch how quickly they go to stand up. They will likely not panic if you cheer “Good job! You got back up!” They get their cues from you. If you act like they almost died, they will feel like that next time. If you cheer on their safe behavior in the water, they will most likely make that their “norm.”

In summary:

Don’t put your kids in floaties. Put yourself in the pool. With your child. And play and explore with them. Who knows….they may just surprise you.

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UPDATE: July 14th, 2014

Isaac is now taking ISR lessons. I caught a really good piece of advice that his teacher gave another mom.

She was teaching a little two year old boy to hold onto the wall. He kept putting his feet up to the wall before his hands, so he could not grab the wall and come up for air. She worked with him for a while to break the tendency, but he was still fighting it.

After the 10 minute lesson, the teacher asked the mom how the boy’s experience in the pool usually is. She said he loves the water. She is always in it with him, and “he has this floatie thing.”

The teacher cut her off right there, and said that is what was causing the problem. When kids float in floaties, they tend to recline a little and kick their feet forward (just like he had been doing while trying to hold onto the wall). It puts them in a bad position in the water (and she demonstrated so we could see).

Her advice? Go home and THROW YOUR FLOATIES AWAY. Floaties are completely contrary to learning how to swim and will impede any progress in learning to safely behave in the water.

WOW!!! There you go…ISR teacher for 18 years, Sheri Phillips, says to go throw your floaties away RIGHT NOW. Will you take the challenge?

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