Kids on Leashes: Taboo or Totally Necessary?

August 10, 2013  |  

From the city to the suburbs, children on busy sidewalks, in amusement parks, and other public places can be seen tethered to leashes. To some, they’re a perfectly reasonably (and perfectly normal) means of keeping kids safe. To others, they’re nothing more than the sign of a parent with no control. But are leashes really necessary?

The debate over the use of kid leashes isn’t just limited to parents; experts also seem to disagree on the topic.

“The main reason why leashes are not productive for kids is that they sabotage children’s learning [of] the necessary distance they can move away from mommy and daddy before the, ‘Uh oh,’ worry alarm sounds off in the young child,” explains Dr. Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent. “Most parents who use a leash do so during the toddler phase of development when children are practicing how far they can move away from mommy before turning to run back to her. In a certain way, leashes arrest a child’s development because an outside force is stopping the child from learning the actual distance they can separate.”

But pediatric occupational therapist and founder of Playapy, Amy Baez argues that there are situations that call for a leash. “Many bystanders do not realize that leashes are often used to protect a child that may be a danger to him or herself,” Baez tells Mommynoire.

“For example, a child with developmental concerns may have difficulty interpreting social cues, poor safety and body awareness, or sensitivities to touch. Parents may use the leash to keep the child from escaping from their reach while also giving themselves some peace of mind when they are always worried about the safety of their child.”

Mom-of-two Kathy Eubanks can attest to that. “After the birth of our second daughter, I began using one with my children. I was prompted [to because] while paying at the counter — my youngest was in my arms — and the older one, who was just a toddler, escaped and dashed out the door and right out into a lane of traffic,” Eubanks recalls.

Although the leash now keeps her kids out of harm’s way, it also makes Eubanks and her children the brunt of dirty looks and negative comments from onlookers who feel that leashes should be confined to dogs, not kids.

Mommy Master Ellie Hirsch is one of those who feels that children don’t belong in harnesses or on leashes, fueling the stigma. “I understand the thinking behind it, but if you need a leash, perhaps you need to evaluate what you are scared of as a parent,” says Hirsch. “Whenever I see a child on a leash, I shake my head because it tells me parent isn’t confident enough to be in public without it. It shouldn’t be used as an alternative method of parenting and watching over your child. What message are we sending to our child if we are using a leash? ‘I don’t trust you or myself enough to let you walk without a leash?’

“Parents need to have a conversation with their child about behavioral expectations in public places. ‘Do we talk to strangers?’ ‘Do we leave with anyone other than mommy and daddy?’ ‘What do we do if we get separated?’ she adds. “If we use a leash as a crutch, then we don’t address these important issues with our children.”

Where do you stand? Should leashes be used on kids in any situation, or do you think they should just be for animals?

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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    who cares

  • Toni Moore

    I agree with all the comments here. I never used a leash although I considered one. I used a carrier or sling when we went to over crowded events or I didn’t go. I was ok with missing a few fairs. I didn’t use a stroller much because of the temptation for a child to get out of it. One thing I would like to add is the trust issue is not necessarily with the child. We can teach our children not to wander too far or not to leave with strangers. I constantly have all these conversations with my daughter. However these discussions are only useful if the separation is of their own accord. But what about protecting children from other people. Kidnapping, a drunk driver or now a days someone texting while driving and running a car up on the sidewalk, a fight, I could go on about the many things that can happen to children only a few feet away from us. What children also need to learn is there are times and places for running free and exploring. And while people are looking in disgust at how one parent chooses to keep their child safe it really is a personal decision just like many other parental rights. Whatever precautions I have to take to maintain my sanity and keep my child safe I am going to do.

  • imnottellingu

    There are situations where I would want to use a leash. Several years ago I was in a mall where my 2 year old son who was right next to me disappeared. It took 4 hours for a security guard to find him. I was terrified. I was lucky!

  • Judy Sibley Richlin

    Are you kidding me? This is not a new thing. My mother used a harness and leash on myself and my three siblings (I am 58 years old) through the age of 3 years old to ensure that we would not wander into traffic, be snatched by someone wishing us harm, or get into trouble in a myriad other ways that could mean we would never make it to adulthood. There is nothing cruel or mean or degrading about this. It is just another tool that parents have to help keep their toddlers safe. I don’t care how many heartfelt conversations you have with your toddler about safety issues. There is only so much a child that young can truly understand. I’m with Marie Noybn on this. Get real. If someone made disparaging remarks to me while I was out with my toddler and had them on a leash, you’d better believe they’d get an earful about how THEY were negligent and indifferent parents if they could not understand why this was a good thing.

  • Marie Noybn

    I think anyone who thinks you can have a reasonable logical conversation with a one or two year old is either not a parent, or delusional.

  • unque43

    This is individual parents, choice. They are with their kids so they know if it is needed. I didn’t need it for my kids, but I have friends who did need it and didn’t. Their outings were mostly spent looking for the little ones or running being them.