Should Toddlers Wear a Leash for Safety?
Would you use a leash to keep your kids close? Is it demeaning—or a cheap and easy way to manage a wandering toddler? Two moms and an expert weigh in.
Hey, It Works!
“I think leashes are excellent for the safety they provide those toddlers who have the tendency to run,” says Karen Black, a mom of a toddler from Rochester, New York. Black purchased a leash after two incidents. The first occurred in a mall—she lost her son four times because he pulled his hand from hers and ran full force. The second, he managed to get past a play area attendant—and her 71-year-old mother couldn’t catch him until 75 yards past the play area.
“When I got the leash, he loved wearing it—and still does,” Black says. “Sometimes he asks to wear it around the house. He’s happy he’s out of the stroller, and I’m stress-free. It was the best $4 I ever spent.”
Black acknowledges that every child is different, but somewhere between age 2 and 3, she says, they don’t listen well. Until they mature and begin to process and reason better, “it’s important to do whatever it takes to keep one’s child safe in today’s crazy society,” Black says.
And what do other people think? People ask her where she got the leash—but that’s about it, says Black. And she doesn’t recall any dirty looks. She thinks it’s ridiculous to call a leash demeaning to the child. In fact, it’s kind of liberating. “He’s safer because of it, and at the same time, it allows him some freedom, which he enjoys,” Black says.
There Are Better Ways
As the mother of a 2-year-old and a 7-month-old, Rebecca Passo, of North Reading, Massachusetts, can see how people could be tempted by a leash. Her 2-year-old son, Jacob, is the kind of kid that wanders in the blink of an eye, with no concern for where she is. With a wandering toddler and an infant, Passo says, there’s constant stress trying to keep them at close range at all times, especially in crowded places.
“But the idea of a child on a leash just seems like the wrong answer,” Passo says. “Even a 2-year-old understands the concept of holding hands and staying close. And if they don’t— to me—all the more reason that it is an important, fundamental lesson they need to learn— a lesson that using a leash deprives them of.” Passo points out that teachers on field trips don’t use leashes—and puts the leash issue in a larger context. “If the location is so daunting that I would find myself considering using a leash, I’d first have to ask myself, should I really be bringing my toddler there in the first place?”
Passo says she’s all for keeping a child safe, and maybe in an extenuating circumstance—triplets in an airport!—a leash could be useful. “But overall, if we need to rely on a leash system to keep our children safe, we may as well wrap them in bubble padding and lock them in our homes for 18 years,” she says. “For a child that is too young to process the concept of staying close by or holding hands or too little to keep up, the next best option is a stroller.”
And the Doctor Says…
“Using a leash on your child may appear unseemly, but it may also offer a very viable alternative in a crowd with your little one,” says Dr. Carol Steltenkamp, a mom and pediatrician at the University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Steltenkamp says it’s not a matter of toddlers being too young to listen. “Unless deaf, all children are able to listen,” she says. “Parents, however, may be a bit short of patience—which is not a good reason to use a leash on your child.” And in the end, it’s not about leashes being intrinsically good or bad—but whether the leash has a purpose. “Practically, children on leashes in very crowded venues seems like a reasonable safety measure.”
Some people feel that leashes help protect children from predators and other dangers, but Dr. Steltenkamp says there’s no literature to support that. “Vigilance is the best form of protection,” she says.
The verdict? If the leash solution works for you at a given time and place, go ahead and use it, Dr. Steltenkamp says. A quick trip into a crowded grocery store? A leash could keep your little one within arm’s reach. A leisurely stroll through the mall? Maybe use the stroller. And just like the car seat or stroller, there will be times when your child will not be happy about the restraint—but she’ll get used to it. As a parent, you pick your battles.
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