If you’re just starting to introduce your child to swimming, the number one concern you have is their safety. Thankfully, there are many personal flotation devices (PFDs) your child can wear to help them get used to the water and build up their confidence.
Arm floaties are one popular type of PFD, also known as puddle jumpers or water wings. These air filled devices fit around your child’s arms and provide additional buoyancy so that they can stay afloat more easily.
Arm floaties are incredibly popular because it not only gives kids peace of mind, but parents as well. However, are arm floaties safe? Do they actually help children learn how to swim? Why would you wear one over a tried and true product like a life jacket?
In this article, I will go over the pros and cons of swimming with arm floaties, and ultimately answer the question of whether arm floaties are safe or not. Let’s get into it.
Why should your child wear arm floaties?
Floaties have been around for decades, so if it was actually dangerous or ineffective, surely it would not be around to this day. Yet here we are. Let’s go over some of the positives of this flotation device.
Build confidence in the water
No two children are the same – some take to the water as if they were born to swim, and others need a little bit of help getting used to the weightless environment of the pool.
For children who struggle to stay afloat, the pool can seem like a dangerous and intimidating place. At this very delicate time in their life, they may develop a phobia of the water that stays with them even into adulthood, unless they are able to overcome it.
By equipping your child with a PFD such as arm floaties, then they can take their time to learn how to maneuver across the water without fear of their heading sinking under it.
The goal here is to use arm floaties as a stepping stone to help your child overcome their initial fear of the water and realize that they have the ability to swim in it. After they get over this initial hurdle, then they can slowly stop relying on arm floaties so much as their confidence and skills grow.
Conserve their energy
If your child is wearing a PFD, then they are able to stay in the pool for longer because they don’t need to expend much energy, if any at all, to stay afloat. The arm floaties are doing that for them.
Thus, they can spend all of their energy and attention on just swimming and having fun in the pool. And best of all, they can do it for longer, since energy is not being expended just to stay afloat.
Give yourself some peace of mind
As a parent, you should always be watching over your child like a hawk – with or without arm floaties on – in case something goes wrong. You’d be surprised at how good children are at attracting danger.
That said, arm floaties can give you some breathing room. You can have some peace of mind knowing that your child is more easily able to stay afloat. Depending on the design of the arm floaties, it is unlikely for it to slip off your child so they can benefit from this extra buoyancy.
Just make sure you don’t relax too much, because arm floaties are not foolproof. In fact, the sentiment from swim experts is that arm floaties are not safe. In the next section, I will go over the arguments against wearing arm floaties.
Why your child shouldn’t wear arm floaties
Not all of them are life saving devices
Very few flotation devices can be accurately labeled as a “life saving device.” There are very stringent requirements that need to be met, and most arm floaties do not meet them.
For example, water wings can slide off your child’s arms as they are splashing around. Since they are inflatable, they may be under-inflated which can provide inadequate buoyancy and may allow the child to tip forward with their face underwater.
Furthermore, arm floaties aren’t made with durable materials. They could easily get punctured and stop providing any positive buoyancy.
Therefore, you should not rely on arm floaties to keep your child(ren) from drowning. Look for ones that are coast guard approved or look for another product.
Arm floaties impair swimming ability and teach bad stroke form
While arm floaties can technically help your child build confidence in the water, there is a risk of it teaching them bad swimming technique and making it harder for them to swim.
If you’ve ever tried swimming with a personal flotation device on, you’ll know that they are quite bulky and can restrict your range of motion. Furthermore, they often force your body into a vertical position to keep your head above the water.
This vertical position is not how you would normally swim. Furthermore, the bulkiness of the arm floaties will make it impossible for your child to perform the correct stroke technique. Swim instructors frequently have to help children un-learn their bad habits from when they were wearing a flotation device such as arm floaties.
This can frustrate your child because they feel like they have lost progress and have to learn everything from scratch.
They can instill a false sense of security
This downside is true for both the child and the parent. With arm floaties on, both you and your child can be lured into a false sense of security that they are totally protected from drowning.
As mentioned in the first point of this section, arm floaties are not life saving devices. They can slide off, fail to provide sufficient buoyancy, get punctured, etc.
When both child and parent let their guard down, that is when the child is in extreme danger. The parent may relax their watch over their child and look away. The child may feel ready to swim to a deeper part of the pool with the help of their trusty arm floaties. Can you see where this might lead to?
If one arm floatie accidentally slips off at the exact moment that the parent decides to look away, then the child is in extreme danger of drowning unless a lifeguard or other swimmer notices and rescues them.
That is why you should never relax your watch over your child, for any reason, even if they are wearing a PFD.
How to use arm floaties and other PFDs properly
As you can see, there are many negatives to wearing arm floaties and this information is likely to deter you from ever buying them or letting your child wear them.
That said, arm floaties are not entirely useless either. First, they can still be used to instill confidence in your child in the very beginning stages of their swimming journey.
The extra buoyancy provided can help your child get used to the water. And once they get a little bit of confidence by spending some more time in the pool, then you can slowly start to cut down on its usage so as not to develop bad habits. Just make sure to stay within arm’s reach of them and to not allow your child to become too dependent on it.
Second, the design of the arm floaties matters a lot. For instance, water wings typically refer to individual floaties that go on each arm. However, puddle jumpers are secured around their upper body and help keep the child’s neck and head out of the water.
They are less likely to slide off and provide even more buoyancy than the water wing style. Some puddle jumpers are coast guard approved, meaning they provide adequate buoyancy and can keep your child’s head out of the water to prevent drowning.