Life vests: Not optional

Q: My son refuses to wear a life vest each time we go out on a boat. What can I do?

A: Life vests, especially for younger children and toddlers, are an essential safety need, so this really can’t be optional. If you meet significant resistance, here are some things you can try:

• If possible, have your child wear a life vest when he’s not going on a boat, just to get him used to wearing the vest.

• Get him his own special life vest, one that fits him well, in a color he chooses or with a favorite cartoon character on the fabric to give him a sense of pride and ownership.

• Have older children or even adults model the habit: Everyone wears a life jacket on the boat. Granted, this may not be very popular with the other adults, but it may be effective. 

Finally, if going on the boat is a fun activity for him, and if he’s 3 years or older, you may just have to go down the path of, “If you don’t put on the life vest, we can’t go on the boat.” This has to be firmly but

lovingly enforced, “If the vest doesn’t get put on, then there’s no boat ride, period.” If you give in even once, he may continue to resist wearing a life vest.

 This column is intended to provide general information only and not medical advice. Contact your health care provider with questions about your child. Dr. Peter Dehnel is a board-certified pediatrician and medical director with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. Send questions to