Safety experts prefer life jackets to floaties or water wings, but...c'mon! Kids shouldn't have to gear up like they're about to storm Normandy every time they take a dip. Here's the real deal when it comes to floaties:
They can cure clinginess. Water wings do have a place in the pool, says Katrina Ramser-Parrish, a swim teacher in Novato, CA, and creator of Squidkid.org, a swim resource for parents. They give kids water confidence without being too cumbersome.
Just don't rely on them to keep your child safe. Water wings can slip off arms, and inner tubes can deflate. Practice "touch supervision," which means always keeping your hands on your child in the water, no matter what.
And take them off once in a while. "When kids wear life jackets or water wings, their brains and bodies begin to think that swimming is learned in a vertical position," says Ramser-Parrish. Take your child in the water without any swim aids and--holding him at all times--show him how to float on his back and tummy. You can also ask your pediatrician if she thinks your little fish is ready for swimming lessons (4 years is the usual recommended starting age).