Safety update: Within minutes of posting, several folks in the comments and on Twitter pointed out potential safety hazards with this hack. Apparently some modern swim vests are designed to automatically flip kids face-up, so wearing them backwards could push their faces into the water.
Much as I appreciate Jennifer sending this in (I've experienced the panic of turning away for a moment only to see your kid go under the water), I don't recommend doing this.
I'm going to leave this hack up because there are some great ideas in the comments. Thanks for the quick response, folks. Really appreciate the reality check. — Asha
What happens when you combine the stubbornness of a toddler with the increased manual dexterity of a preschooler, then add water? You have a kid who can undo the buckles on his floaty swim vest.
Here's how Jennifer staved off the problem (for the next few pool visits at least):
We had quite a scare with my 3 year old in the pool. In the minute or so I was distracted by my other child, he took off his trusty swim vest and submerged under water.
I now put his swim vest on BACKWARDS to prevent this from happening again (and of course I am careful that he is never more than an arm's length away).
Same thinking behind putting disposable diapers on backwards…to keep grabby kids from pulling open the tape straps.
Safety note: ONLY consider doing this with swim vests if adults are nearby and paying attention, NOT with official flotation devices (such as lifejackets).
Some swim vests, like the Speedo version pictured here, have a zipper with the pull protected by a snap. May be harder for some kids to undo.
Anyone else have this problem? What did you do about it?
More: Hacks for swimming