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Leashes Are for Dogs, Harnesses Are for Kids

Is putting children on "leashes" any worse than restricting their freedom in strollers?

Last Saturday, as I was in the Lehigh Valley Mall pushing the stroller I put my 22-month-old son in so he doesn’t run amok, I saw a tethered child pulling a parent along. 

After chuckling a bit at the scenario of a parent being led around by their child, I thought it might be bordering on some sort of legal form of abuse, and that the child might need excessive amounts of therapy in the future.

Was this just a rash judgment born out of my social conditioning and hypersensitivity to abusive situations, or is the "leashing" of little ones really OK?

One can buy a leash, euphemistically referred to as a child safety harness, for as little as $5.99, and more expensive models come with plush animal backpacks within which your child can carry all their necessary gear--juice cup, toy cell phone, blanket, etc. 

Even as I strapped my son into the baby jogger and clasped the restraint closed, I thought to myself that I would never put my child on a leash because it is demeaning to treat a child in the same manner as a dog (even if you can buy a safety harness on Amazon.com).

“Leashes are for dogs. You wouldn’t put your child in a crate, or let him poop on the sidewalk, right? If you have a bolter, invest in a cheap umbrella stroller with a buckle,” said Judith Goldberg, author of the “Judy on Duty” advice column that appeared in the print version of Parents Magazine (April 2011).

Moms at the end of their leash responded overwhelmingly--submitting more than 100 responses--to what seemed like her self-righteous and politically correct rant on the "Judy on Duty" blog.   

Trudy Greer wrote, “Not sure if your brain is off duty but 'leashes' as you call them allow children to be mobile and have both hands free to explore their world in a controlled manner when they are walking but still too young to understand basic hazards. Umbrella strollers with a buckle, while meeting safety and security needs, don’t give a child any mobility or freedom.”

Becky from Minneapolis wrote, “As for your comments that you wouldn’t put your child in a crate, well, have you heard of a crib? And also suggesting that pooping on the sidewalk is somehow significantly worse than pooping in the diaper your kid is wearing is ridiculous. What bothers me the most about your humble ignorant opinion, is that you are judging other moms and dads who are simply doing their best to keep their kids safe. Implying that using a toddler leash is akin to treating your child like a dog is naive and insulting.”

Not everybody disagreed with Judy, however, as there were some who commented who rallied behind her.

Marlitz wrote, “I am very against the 'leashes.' But it depends what the intended use is for. I have seen so many parents use to control the amount of 'freedom' that they give their child and then of they do something wrong then they yank back (very wrong)... Young children need to move a lot so plan accordingly and don’t expect them to cooperate for long periods of time."

Laura wrote, “Every time I see a child leashed up and being treated as the family pet I am absolutely disgusted. When did parenting become victim to such laziness? All children love the freedom of being able to run. It is our job as parents to teach them boundaries, to hold our hands, and that there are safe places to wander freely along with the not-so-safe places where we stick together.

"Teaching takes TIME, PATIENCE, AND PRACTICE. This often means that your fun filled day at a theme park may soon become exhausted with constant explanation and repeated ‘no’ or ‘hold my hand.' It saddens me that so many would rather resort to ‘the easy way out.'”

So, can there be a safe practice of using a harness? In terms of allowing freedom, I think of some of the tools that I used when my children were babies--backpacks, front facing carriers and baby slings--all in an attempt to exercise the theory of attachment parenting, which, according to Dr. Sears strengthens the bond between child and caregiver, while fostering trust.

Now, of course, I push my baby in a stroller, and I think of that line delivered by Maggie Gyllenhaal in the indie movie Away We Go: “I LOVE my babies. Why would I want to PUSH them away from me?”

Is putting your child on a leash any worse than restricting their freedom in a stroller and pushing them away from you? At least you can see them, and their hands are free to reach and explore if they're on a leash. They are responsive and mobile wherever you go, instead of sleeping in the carriage or desperately trying to escape.

I agree that using the harness as a disciplinary tool, by jerking your child like a dog in training, is unacceptable. I think even Cesar Millan would object to using a leash on a dog in such a manner. Maybe, just maybe, the child safety harness has a place in the parenting toolbox.

No, I am not ready to get a leash for my children, but I will think twice about other parents who do.

For parents at the end of their rope, a leash might be the best way of keeping a spirited child within arm’s length.

claudia allen September 01, 2011 at 06:23 PM
I used a harness on my daughter...traveling through airports, going to the grocery store, other trips in public where I didn't want her to get away from me. (Have you tried chasing a toddler through an airport?) She loved it so much more than being strapped into a stroller. She pretended she was a puppy. When she got older and too big for the harness, she listened to my instructions a little better (but could still slip away), I had her pull a toy dog that squeaked as it rolled along so I could keep track of her whereabouts by sound. You know...it's whatever works that keeps our children safe! (Oh...and I have a grandson now and a squeaky little dog toy all ready for when he and I go shopping.)

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