Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Let's Debate: The Toddler Leash!

I remember when I first saw a child on a leash, I was about 18 and in an airport. The child was running away from his mother and when he got to the end of the leash he got angry and threw himself on the ground and proceeded to have a tantrum. My first thought was "Hey, if you want your children to act like animals, treat them that way!" I am starting to revisit this hasty and ignorant conclusion. I still feel like using a leash, or harness or backpack, whatever you want to call it isn't exactly a respectful way to treat a child, but recently the following points have made me think these might actually be an important safety tool and have their place.

We live in a small apartment in a big city. No yard, not a whole lot of grass, and much of the grass that exists has large signs saying to KEEP OFF. If Colin needs exercise, I have to walk him around on the sidewalks. This creates a couple issues.
  1. Safety: At any time while we are walking ,Colin is less than 6 feet from traffic and he obviously is below the sight line of most drivers. So far he isn't much of a 'darter' but people tell me this is probably because he isn't 2 yet.
  2. Comfort: Colin holds our hands very nicely but Sean and I are both tall and thus his little arm is straight up in the air. I know from holding the subway rails, this is tiring. He often asks to be picked up but will happily walk around more when we get inside the gated courtyard. So I don't think his legs are tired I think his arm is!
  3. Walking alignment: While holding hands, he can't balance as well and he trips often. Yes he is a new walker so he trips, but he trips much more when holding hands.
  4. Dislocation Risk(?): When Colin trips, the instinct is to yank quickly on his arm to keep him standing. I often feel like I'm going pop his shoulder out of socket. I have no idea if this is a real risk or not, but I certainly think about the possibility of it happening.
As of right now Colin is great in the stroller, as long as we keep moving he is happy, therefore that is my first line of defense for keeping him safe. However, sometimes he NEEDS to walk. As an example, the other day, Colin got up around 7:00am and was in the high chair for breakfast from 8:00-8:45. By 9:15 we were taking a walk around the neighborhood and returned home at 10:00am for his snack. From the snack chair we went into his room to read some book and prepare for his nap. He slept from 11:00am-1:00pm. He groggily played in the living room until I fed him lunch from 1:20ish-2:00pm (yes he does sit that long for a meal.) After that, we got ready to go grocery shopping so he was in the car seat, the shopping cart and the car seat again until 4:45. Then comes dinner, back to the high chair. At this point it hits me, Colin has been sitting on his butt all but maybe 90 mins ALL DAY LONG. So after dinner out we went to walk the neighborhood for an hour. Sheesh, and I wonder why he doesn't sleep well!?!? Or why I have to restrain his legs sometimes to get him to fall asleep!! The kid has energy to BURN but no way to burn it. Our building does have a playground but if I take him there 1) he goes right to the swing and won't budge for a while (not burning energy) 2) He tries to walk off 4 foot high platforms on the jungle gym and I can't be everywhere at once. This isn't the solution.

So maybe walking Colin around the sidewalks with a leash is a worthy solution to consider. However I still worry this might cause more problems for us later. Some people say this is humiliating for children, I'm not sure Colin has that level of self awareness yet but an older child might, I don't know. Others say it will teach them that they don't have to hold hands. Still others say maybe it does teach them how to stay close by providing a physical limit for the distance they can go from mom or dad (like an invisible fence boundary does for dogs.) In some cases I think harnesses are a useful safety tool, particularly with multiples or when parents are handicapped and not able to chase their children. I obviously don't fall into either of those cases, but maybe their are other situations when they are useful as well.

I invite comment, in fact I encourage it!! Kids or no kids please weigh in. I have not purchased one, but am seriously considering doing so. What is your opinion? Have you used one? What do you think of them?
At first sight I was horrified by them, then I had a child and my view of many things changed. I have certainly became less judgmental of other parents.


Anonymous said...

never used one, even in Disneyland where there are families with 2 or 3 kids on a leash, can't get past the dog on a leash thing. Just can't see it. Now if I can put an invisible fence around Bree and the boys would get zapped if they cross over I would think about that!

Anonymous said...

I think again this is a question like many of your other points you have discussed that until you are in the situation it is easy to have a judgment..and that judgment may change once you are actively involved in it.

I think the harness is ok for a reaosn. I think if you are in your own yard in a "typical" neighborhood then get off your fanny and chase your kid, but if you are in a crowded place then it is a safety issue. If the child/parent understand how the uses of this then it will be effective and may only need to be used short term as a training device. I often see if when I am in Boston at Quincy Market and feel in some ways it is the new step to a bjorn type of thing. It is a way to have your child with you and to be able to account for his/her safety while allowing the child to interact with society to the best of his/her ability.


Anonymous said...

Hey Becky,

its Kim. I think I may have a solution that is sort of a combo of the two. I am not sure if such an invention exists, but certainly it could be made. You could try using a different type of "tether" where you and colin both wear a bracelet (made of velcro or a small belt akin to a watch) and connect the two with a bungie (sp?) type of tether approx 2-3 feet in length. This way Colin's arm will not tire, it does not look anything like a harness to avoid the humiliation factor, AND should he decide to dart away he wouldn't get very far as your bracelets would give a nice little tug and you could easily catch him before he meanders into oncoming traffic. Just an idea. In fact I can make you one and you can test it out. Let me know.

Erin said...

We have one for Ben. My mom bought it for him when the boys were visiting my parents and my parents took them to the zoo. My mom was worried about the logistics of chasing 2 toddlers, but ended up not needing it because there were 3 adults present to watch the 2 children!

His is the backpack type, and I have never used it. I'm not opposed to using it, it gives the child a sense of independence and freedom while allowing parents to keep the child away from danger. I'm not sure how it would work to have two kids on harnesses, but I would be willing to give it a shot.

I agree with you, I thought the "baby leashes" were totally ridiculous -- until I had children. Like Elaine pointed out, it's so easy to make judgments about something when you've never before been in the situation.

I totally do not buy the argument that it is humiliating for the child. Because if you're going to make that argument, how can you make the argument that pooping in a diaper and having someone else wipe your bottom isn't humiliating?! And yet kids don't seem to have any problem with that!

Kristy said...

I refuse to use a leash on Lukas but will admit to wishing I had go-go gadget arms to catch him when he feels the need to dart away. He is good about holding on to "a finger" when we walk with him around the block. I like Kim's idea a lot and would totally use that instead of the leash. You could always make him hold on to your purse like Mom did. :)

JJ said...

Bec I saw parents using the harness option on their child at the state fair. It's very difficult to keep a toddler cooped up in a stroller or backpack for any real length of time. They have energy to burn...and need to move. This allows them to do so with a safety factor for large crowds. You are in large crowds and traffic on a daily basis with Colin and it could be a useful tool for you. I would get him used to it slowly and only use it when needed. He has to learn these "new" rules but they don't happen overnight and he needs to feel some freedom in learning. So for you in the city I would use one but not all the time. I look at them as harness' not leashes...but that's just me.

Becky said...

the wrist leash does exist
however, it is velcro closure, and I'm pretty sure it would take Colin all of 5 mins before he could get it off.
In a twisted way I like the backpack option. I could put a something inside too add a little weight, making him work harder with each step. =) (Can you tell I'm in animal behavior? poor Colin)

Julie said...

When I worry if I am doing "the right thing" with Annabelle, I always think back to your advice about "trusting your instincts". YOU are the one who really knows your child, so do what YOU think is right for him. If you wanna use a leash, use least try it out. It's not like you are doing him any harm. Parents will understand when they see you, and non-parents should just consider themselves lucky that they get more than 3 hours of sleep at night, screw 'em! (can you tell that I have sleep envy?)

I agree that it is easy for non-parents to be judgemental about situations that they have never been in. I admit it, I used to roll my eyes when a baby would cry in the store....and what do you think happened to me the other day? waaaa! (and then the cashier rolled her eyes at Annabelle!)

BTW, LMAO at Erin's humiliation/diaper comment:)

Kristeen said...

I'll weigh in. I always thought the same thing it seems-- that they were awful, and that they were for lazy parents who didn't mind treating their kids like animals. Since being pregnant, however, I've read a lot of other people's opinions about them. I've come to think they're a respectable, viable option for parents who may have one toddler and one infant, or a similar situation where you literally CAN'T run after a darter, because you'd be leaving kid #2 in danger. I do think, though, that when using one you have to use verbal prompts and responses as well. Sounds like a given, but I can imagine situations where the leash is taken for granted, and the kid doesn't end up learning boundaries-- and isn't that the reason we'd use them anyway? I think they need to be used as a training tool, not so much a "leash."

Anonymous said...

I just remembered that we used the arm "sashes" if we want to use a different term w/ velcro when I worked at the daycare years ago when we would travel to downtown Buffalo to the farmers market. None of them tried to take it off because it was used moreso for the adult as a guide than to pull the student. It was able to help us know which direction the child was walking and not used to pull the child to us or to yank him/her off the ground. As long as the child is able to freely walk then he/she won't view the "sash" as stopping him/her from doing anything.

I think it has its pros if you are being an active parent (which you are). I think if you decide to pull up a 12 pack and sit in a lawn chair and strap on the harness then we may have some issues!!! -Elaine

Nicole said...

I have seen an entire daycare walking down the street using them. It seems like a good idea if you have to walk by a busy street or in a lot of people. We could use them in school for some of the Kindergarteners! We almost had an escapee yesterday.

Sneks said...

I am a non-parent. Children are not in our plans for at least another 2 years. But I would buy a child leash tomorrow if I found a good one on sale!

I understand all of the arguments against them, but safety is number one for me. I agree that having your kid on a leash in your yard while you down a few beers is insane, but out in the world, it's safer than having them walk free and healthier than plopping them in a stroller.

And who cares what other people think when they see Colin in a cute monkey backpack attached to his mommy??

Anonymous said...

If you get Sean a matching backpack then people won't look at Colin on the leash and think bad about you..they will focus on Sean!!! Oh the idea of dad and me matching backpack leashes is a funny idea!!!-Elaine

Gwenn Mangine said...

I love to quote my friend CC who once said, "I did all my best parenting before I became a parent." There were many MANY MANY things I thought I disagreed with (and perhaps still do in principle) that I now engage in.

Parenting is a HARD JOB. And you gotta do what you gotta do to make it work.

I am ALL FREAKIN' FOR the leashes. Heck yeah. My son Josiah is not just a "darter" he's a sprinting darter. Trying to negotiate an international airport in a third world country with 3 kids, one of whom looks nothing like you and totally like the native people of said third world country, one of them so drowsy from the motion sickness pills that she's falling asleep on the floor while people are collecting their baggage and hitting her with luggage carts, and then the final one of them being the sprinting darter... Heck yeah we use a leash.

BUT, this is funny since I am so pro kid-leash. We have never and WILL NEVER use one on our son Nico, who is adopted and a different race than us. I think it could present a picture that we never want to cross people's minds. Possibly it's a double standard. But whatever. Again, you gotta do what works...

Daisy and Ryan said...

You've gotten many responses already telling you to do what YOU feel is right for YOUR child. And this is just one more. You have your reasons for thinking it is going to be helpful (even necessary). What more do you need? You clearly are not wanting it so you can be lazy. You were even against it until you realized why it might really benefit you and YOUR CHILD. You want to use it so that you can keep your child safe while still allowing him to burn some energy and be more independent. What could possibly be wrong with that?

I would suggest, though I don't think I need to, that you only use the leash when in situations that really call for it - b/c of traffic, crowds, or whatever else. And then let him go on his own when you can - at a park or in the playground you mentioned. But I would expect nothing less from you anyway - based on what I do know about you. :) From the concern you show about what others might think and from trying to justify buying a leash for your child and all the thought you have put into it, you are showing that you are only considering it because you think it might really be necessary at some of these times. And it sounds like you're right.

I don't have a leash and don't believe that I will need one. But I don't live in an area like you do at all. If I saw people walking in my neighborhood with a child on a leash, I might do a bit of a double take b/c this just isn't an area that calls for that. But it still isn't my call anyway! (And who knows...when Aiden is older and wanting to be out of the stroller when we walk on the sidewalk, I could think differently! You don't know until you're there...)

As for the concern about this teaching a child not to hold hands - I disagree. You can still let him know you expect him to hold your hand, while using the leash as a safeguard in case you were to get separated.

And I totally feel you on noticing that some days these kids don't seem to get much time walking around. On grocery and errand days...I feel like Aiden's constantly going from high chair to car seat to buggy to car seat, etc. I hate that! It's so great to give them that time to run around. So, if using a leash is what it takes...GO FOR IT. Do what you think is best and to heck with what anyone else thinks. It's your kid; not theirs. I know that's sometimes easier said than done, but... Besides, when will you see any of those people again? Even if they do judge you (which they shouldn't, clearly), you'll probably never see them again. :)

mommymac4 said...

I have leashes for the twins although Katie doesn't need it anymore. I used it while training them to hold my hand because I have the other kid to account for as well. I also use it so they can walk while we are in the grocery store and I'm having to puch the cart. I also like the stability the harness provides- I don't interfere with their balance by pulling on one of them to catch-up with the other. It's the best way I can think of at the moment to keep all 4 kids safe! Two are on the leash (we call them backpacks and Abby and Eddie have even worn them in extreme safety risks with the twins in the double stroller) and the older two hold either my pinky finger, or the twins hands :)