Child Leash Backpack: Life Saver or Terrible Invention?

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As I journey through the life of an average parent, I find myself doing many of the same things I was once critical of. Yes, I’ve given my toddler cookies to tame a fit. Yes, I have placed him in front of the TV so that I could do an urgent call. And, yes, I have found myself uttering the same phrases my mother used on me (and felt the appropriate level of horror!). As my son approached the 18-month mark, I found myself considering the idea of the child leash. Or, perhaps it might sound less primitive if I refer to it as the “baby safety harness.”

Before entering parenthood, I couldn’t fathom using one of those things. Tugging my child around the mall like a dog. Are you kidding me? Well, things changed. As my baby got older, I realized that I needed to allow him a certain level of independence outside our home. I teetered back and forth on the leash idea for a while, and initially decided I wasn’t going to go there. I was better than that. I was going to teach my son proper behavior, and he was going to hold my hand in public. Ha! That was a novel idea! Instead, my hyperactive little angel saw a world of opportunities in front of him–and was ready to take full advantage of it. I tried; I did! I tried positive reinforcement, repetition, a stern voice, and even rewards…none of it made a difference.

For me, the final straw was the time he nearly made it into the kitchen at Chick-Fil-A. I put him down for a second to get the highchair situated, and he was gone. Of course, I instantly reacted, dropped the diaper bag, knocked over the high chair, and pushed innocent bystanders out of the way in my dash to catch him. Luckily the employees were amused by my little cutie pie, but I can only imagine the havoc he would have caused had he gotten any farther…not to mention the potential injuries he could have suffered.

Children Leash Backpack

The next day I headed to the local baby supply store and purchased one of those fuzzy cute backpack/harness things with a tail for a leash. It was doggy. Those things are so darn cute; I can’t imagine how anybody could dislike it. Hubby and I took our son to the mall to give it a test run, and our son loved it! He had the biggest grin you’d ever see. He was so happy to have such freedom, until he reached the limits and got yanked back, like a dog. Hmmm, I wondered if this was going to work. We didn’t exactly like the idea of tugging him around like a wild animal, even though he tended to act like one at times. Then there was the piercing stares Hubby and I both noticed. That part didn’t bother me as much as it did hubby. After all, I have already been criticized by plenty of people for not dressing my son in enough clothes, for propping him up in the stroller, for forgetting his mittens, and for a variety of other silly things. I’ve just accepted that being a mom means being judged. Hubby wasn’t as relaxed going and decided he was done with the leash. Overall, I was still undecided.

Children on a Leash

So what’s the big deal about using a baby leash, anyway? (Other than the fact that resembles the way we treat animals?)

Many child development experts, including our pediatrician, tend to be against the use of the harness. Instead, they advocate for more effective parenting or a “child-centered” approach. The primary arguments are that the leash prevents parents from using the opportunity to teach their children appropriate behavior, and limits parental/child interaction. I get that, I do. I can acknowledge that there probably are many parents who use the leash out of sheer laziness, or because they lack the ability or inclination to discipline their children. Yes, in a perfect world, all parents would take the time to teach their children to act appropriately in every situation. But this can become very difficult when you’re dealing with a challenging, hyperactive or unique needs toddler. Don’t get me wrong, and I know that discipline and consistency are vital. But, sometimes you have to pick your battles and go with what works. Sometimes you bribe your son with M&M’s to get him to use the potty. Sometimes you hide the green beans in the stuffing so your daughter will eat her veggies. And sometimes you use a leash to keep your toddler from terrorizing the kitchen staff at the local fast-food restaurant.

Elizabeth Donovan, psychotherapist and founder of an all girl-based parenting site says she found security with the baby leash although she admits she was once highly critical of the idea. “Before I became a mom, I was one of those people who used to stare at other parents with disdain whenever I would see a toddler being toted around on a leash,” she says. “In my naive mind, it seemed like the children on the leashes were being led around like dogs from store to store despite their protests.”

It wasn’t long before she realized the protective value of the leash. The mother of three young children says it became almost impossible to go anywhere public, especially when faced with a 2-year-old who refused the stroller and had a propensity for darting in and out of stores and hiding under clothing racks. “That’s when I swallowed my pride (as parents often do) and purchased a harness,” she says.

Elizabeth says she got plenty of dirty looks when using the leash, but didn’t let it bother her. “If people staring at me is the price I pay for my child’s safety, then it’s well worth the payment,” she says.

I agree with Elizabeth, but still, I can’t help but think there needs to be a limit to its use, that maybe the baby leash isn’t quite right for all kids or every situation. Karen gives a prime example for the pitfalls of leashing a child. While pregnant with her second child, she chose to use a leash with her then 21-month-old daughter. “I was holding the leash, and she took off running,” she said. “She got stopped (yanked back) by the leash, and landed with a thud on the tile floor,”  Karen said that was the only time she used it.

So, what it boils down to is this…in my opinion, anyway:

If you need to use a leash for your child, do so and don’t worry about what other people think. It’s better to know she’s safe, and there’s a lot to say for maintaining a parent’s sanity. However, this may sound obvious; keep in mind that your little boy or girl is not an animal. Use the leash as a precaution, as you diligently try to teach your child to stay by your side. Don’t use it as a substitute for good parenting. As for me, I plan to whip out the doggy backpack/leash again, and hopefully; the outing goes more smoothly. If not, to heck with what everybody else thinks. Because, it’s like seasoned mom (and grandmother) Janice M. Dottin says,Parents already second-guess themselves about all kinds of decisions and don’t need a self-important stranger, no matter how well-meaning, to make it worse.”

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