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How to enjoy a water park with a toddler

Maria Mora is a freelance writer and single mom fueled by coffee, questionable time management skills, toaster oven waffles and the color orange. She lives in Florida with her two young sons. If you see her on Twitter, tell her to stop p...

Big fun for little splashers

With big slides and big waves, water parks can be daunting for little kids. Try these simple tips for making the most of a trip to the water park, even when you have little ones and weak swimmers.
Water fun for your little one
Toddler and mom at the waterpark

When it’s hot and sticky during the summer, a water park is the best place to stay cool, wear out the kids and enjoy some thrills. For families with kids who aren’t swimming strongly yet, a trip to the water park can also be a source of stress. Learn how to enjoy a water park with a toddler.

1

Bring enough adults

Toddlers and kids who can't swim need to be supervised at all times at a water park. Even splash areas often involve enough water for a child to slip and fall into. Though water parks employ lifeguards, nothing can substitute the watchful eye of a parent or guardian. When traveling to a water park with more than one child, make sure there are enough adults on hand to observe the kids. You can’t watch a toddler while your pack of kindergarteners heads off to ride a slide. If you can’t manage enough adults to supervise the kids, skip the trip and wait until you’re able to achieve a safe ratio.

2

Use a lifejacket

Most water parks do not allow you to bring your own “floaties” or life jackets. However, the park should be able to provide an approved life jacket for small children and older children who are not yet strong swimmers. Not every slide will allow the life jackets, but they’re worth having for wave pools, lazy rivers and splash areas with deeper water elements. If you need a life jacket, arrive at the park early to make sure you find one in your child’s size before they run out. The last thing you want to do is wander around the park for an hour waiting to spot someone who’s done with a life jacket. Keep yours under close guard once you have it so someone else doesn't snag it.

3

Don't push your kids

As tempting as it is to ride big slides together as a family, you must wait until all the kids in your party are comfortable with the thrills. Don’t be that parent at the water park dragging a crying child up several flights of stairs. You can talk up the fun aspects of the ride, but if you find yourself begging and bribing, switch gears and do something else. Oftentimes the best way to convince a kid to do something new is to let the child watch other kids doing it. If that subtle incentive doesn’t work out, it’s probably not time to try the big slides.

4

Pack snacks and take breaks

Small children, especially kids who tend to nap on busy days, can get worn out very easily when playing in the water. If your local water park allows coolers or bags, pack snacks and plenty of drinks. If not, pack a cooler for your trunk and take a lunch break out in the parking lot. Just toss cover-ups and flip flops on the kids for a quick parking lot picnic. Take water breaks and bathroom breaks once every hour to rejuvenate toddlers and older kids. If your toddler still naps, consider bringing a stroller and enough dry towels to offer a napping place in the late afternoon.

Find the best theme parks for toddlers >>

More ways to beat the heat

5 Fun water toys for outside play
Water sports for the whole family
5 Family fun games for the beach

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