Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Should Your Child Use a Flotation Device at The Pool?

A parent wants to take their child into the pool, but has questions about the proper way to introduce that child to the water. How do flotation devices become a part of the water experience, and what’s the best way to find and fit the best device for your child? Should the child wear one – the answer is yes, it is recommended.

Introducing the child to a flotation device.

According to the U. S. Coast Guard, (, most children will panic if they fall into the water suddenly. They will tend to thrash around, sometimes violently moving their arms and legs, which makes it difficult for them to safely float in a Personal Flotation Device (PFD). Sometimes a PFD will keep the child afloat, but not necessarily upright, if that child is struggling. That’s why it is recommended that parents teach the child how to put on a PFD, and help them get used to the experience of having one on in the water. An adult should always be with the child, even with if they are wearing a PFD – a flotation device is not meant to replace parental supervision. Additionally, inflatable toys and rafts are not meant to be used instead of a properly fitted PFD. So what is the best way to fit a PFD for a child?

A snug fit is best.

To fit properly, the PFD must fit snugly. There’s an easy way to check that – pick the child up by the shoulders of the PFD. If it fits right, the child’s chin and ears will not slip through the device. It is suggested that a PFD be tested to make sure it is a proper fit for that child. Put it on in the infant or child in a swimming pool. Some infants will float better in one type of device, others better in another. The distribution of body weight, and the tendency of children to struggle, or attempt to climb out of the water, may make one or the other device fit better for that infant. Check to make sure it is the proper PFD for the weight range of the child.

As confirmed by, a PFD must always be worn by a young child, and a proper fit is a key to the device working properly. In order to keep a child’s head above water, the fit is very important. So it’s best to get one that fits properly, but don’t pick one that is too big – thinking that the child will grow into it. Picking the proper size PFD for a child depends on weight:

  • Infant size: 8 to 30 pounds 
  • Child size: 30 to 50 pounds 
  • Youth size: 50 to 90 pounds 

The features to look for in a PFD for a child or infant: 
  • Padded head support – which will help keep the child’s head out of the water 
  • Grab handle – will assist in pulling the child from the water if necessary 
  • Crotch strap – this will keep the PFD from riding up on the child

Let the child get used to the PFD.

Parents are sometimes surprised when their child rejects the PFD – the young one hates putting it on and wearing it. That is why it is recommended that the child be allowed to become familiar with the PFD before having them in the water with it. Allow them to overcome the resistance and the feeling of confinement, and if possible, make it a game to keep it one, or offer a reward for using the PFD. If the child becomes comfortable with the chosen PFD, they will be a lot less likely to panic during water activity.

Yes, a child should wear a flotation device at the pool. Choosing and fitting the proper device can make the introduction to a flotation device a pleasant experience for a child, and let them begin to experience all the fun that being in the water can provide.

This guest article was submitted by Becky Flanigan. She was an English major in college, and now uses those skills extensively while writing freelance articles for about pool cleaner parts and other topics. Becky spends time traveling with her husband, 3 kids, and 2 golden retrievers. Since her kids were babies, she has spent many happy hours at the family swimming pool, watching the kids and dogs splash and play. She is turning into quite the gardener as well – and even helps friends landscape and decorate their yards.

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