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Tell Me How To Feel About: THE LEASH

Tell Me How To Feel About: THE LEASH

By Amalah

Kids on leashes. Probably one of the top parenting choices all but guaranteed to earn you some judge-y side-eye or comments from strangers, even more so than say, breast- or bottle-feeding in public. For every parent who views them as a necessary safety measure, there’s at least several more who view leashing a small child as demeaning or lazy or just plain weird.

I admit The Leash was absolutely a thing I was once awfully high and mighty about myself…pre-kids, anyway. Then I had a baby and had every pre-conceived notion about parenting and the kind of mother I was going to be (PRACTICALLY PERFECT IN EVERY WAY, OF COURSE) was promptly knocked out from under me.

And one day, not long after giving birth to baby #2, my 3 year old (who had limited communication skills and a way overactive fight-or-flight response to just about any sensory stimulation) dropped my hand in a crowded parking lot and TOOK. OFF.

And any judgement I ever felt for ANY parent who leashed a child for ANY reason took right off with him. Until you realize some kid are just runners, you just don’t know what it can be like.

That said, I never ended up buying a leash. I just…couldn’t. Mostly because I couldn’t handle the judgement, which I already felt I was getting plenty of when strangers observed my special needs child. (Not KNOWING he was special needs, of course, but in their minds, obviously too big to be acting the way he was or riding in our stroller or whatever.) I’m sure so much of that was all in my head, but I was still too close to my pre-kids self and mindset, and remembered how judge-y I once was.

Now, three kids later, I am all out of craps to give about what anyone thinks about my kids or my parenting. I’ve been more than a little tempted to leash my 4-year-old (if I didn’t know he was 100% bound to simply go boneless and sit on the floor in protest), and in retrospect there was one horrible experience at the airport that would have been made much easier if my middle son (then 5) had been on a leash or other restraint.

Strollers aren’t always an option, particularly double ones, and since we preferred to wear our babies in our Ergo, that left an ever-increasing number of small, easily distracted children floating around our outnumbered orbit. “Hold my hand, buddy,” I’d say a million and one times, only to have to drop their hands to attend to someone else or dig around my diaper bag and while I really really did want to trust them and teach them to be sensible and STAY PUT, in the real world that just didn’t always happen. A panicked look around, a mad dash in a guessed direction, a lost kid in a giant store, that weird feeling of relief and RIGHTEOUS FURY when you find them, usually completely oblivious to what they’ve just put you through.

And yet. I never bought a leash, and more than likely never will. And I’m not entirely sure I made that decision for the “right” reasons.


Photo Source: Mommy’s Helper on Amazon

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Emily

    Oh man, the leash. I was absolutely in the judging boat until my youngest brother (who is 18 years younger than me) dashed away from us at the mall one day, into a crowd, and of course immediately pretended he was deaf to us calling and chasing him back down.
    So we bought one of those leash backpacks – the kind that’s shaped like a stuffed puppy and you can pretend it’s not really a leash until you clip the lead on since he was at that great obstinate toddler age where he insisted on walking and NOT riding in a stroller (and carriers weren’t a big thing at the time like they are now). We’d go somewhere crowded and clip it on and he’d instantly collapse to the ground and refuse to move. Then you’d pick him up and he’d turn to putty in your arms because he wanted waaaalllllkkkkkkk, oh the draaammmmaaaaaaa, and you’d set him down and he’d melt into a puddle of leash protest. I have no idea how we made it through anywhere, but I’m convinced the smiling kids on the ads are photoshopped fakes. 

  • Daisy

    We spend a lot of time in the summer on docks (my husband sails competitively) and when we are on the dock, there is a “leash” attached to my toddler’s life jacket. No apologies – safety first. 

    • SD888

      Smart. Better safe than sorry!

  • Myriam

    I  always judge, then remember that I don’t know… even if they’re just lazy, at least the kids are safe!

    • IrishCream

      That’s me too…I do (silently) judge, and then my better self reminds me that I don’t know that family’s circumstances. 

    • Sid

      I’m curious, why do you think it’s “lazy”? Is it the assumption that these parents are not bothering to talk to or teach their children about safety? Do you think they want to relax and not watch their kids’ every move?

      • Myriam

        Something like that, yes… 

        • SD888

          Get out of here with that ‘lazy’ nonsense. Many children have sensory issues/autism/developmental delays in these modern times where the natural environment has become so toxic and polluted. The parents who CARE use child harnesses. The lazy parents just let their kids run amok.

  • Holly

    I have used a leash on my oldest, when she was 15-20mo and very independent. It was the kind like in the photo. She was fine with wearing it, and preferred that to holding my hand. I received a few judgmental looks/comments from people. I typically either looked straight through them with my best glare, or had a quick comeback depending on what they said to me. My parents used a leash on me when I was young, (early 1980s) and so I never had the notion that it was “wrong” to leash your kids.

  • Sara

    I have used a leash backpack on mine when she was about 18 months old: we visited Hawaii and went to the volcano.  She was too short to feasibly hold her hand and walk anywhere, so we leashed her when we were walking around the rim where there is a several hundred foot drop off and a single high rail to keep people out (she was short enough she could just walk under).  We did not travel with a stroller.  Safety first, absolutely.   

  • June

    Same as Amy here. I judged people pretty harshly because it looks like torture or something. Then my three year old ran straight into a parking lot after he panicked over seeing my husband retrieving something out of the car without him. I was screaming his name, strangers were screaming, kid just kept on booking it through traffic as I attempted to chase him down/ dodge traffic while holding my daughter, a diaper bag and my purse. He had never done anything like it before and I was shocked as we’d had many traffic safety conversations. It was scary as hell and now I totally support them. You do what you have to do.

  • Laura

    I’m remember when I was young my mom not using a leash, but these wrist to wrist tether thingies… kind of like this http://www.amazon.com/bulk-buys-TE-142-child-safety/dp/B00261QNA2 They had that spiral telephone cord type thing that had lots of stretch, so it was less leash like. I think it was a thing that was only used in unusual, crowded circumstances – like going to an amusement park or something. And I don’t remember minding at all.

  • Jill

    I’m a preschool special education teacher and I say yes to the leash. Some kids are just not safe without a hand constantly held. It is so much more comfortable for both parent and child to use the backpack style, cute teddy bear leash than to yank a tiny arm up to meet your own. I’ve taught many kids who could not be trusted with any freedom in public, and one of my own who got lost more than once. Keep them safe and don’t worry about judgmental opinions.

  • Sid

    As a parent (and former leashed child), I totally support the leash-and-harness (a proper one too, not one of those lame, short-leash, cheap-quality, easily-escaped ones… don’t get me started on the wrist ones…). I feel much less self-conscious about what people think of me using the leash than I do about keeping my child locked in a stroller not getting any exercise at all…

    I bought one from this lady (http://www.childharness.ca/) years ago and used it at different times for both my kids. She also makes adult-sized ones for people with special needs. Super good quality for the price.

  • Emma

    I never judge leashed kids. How is it lazy to not want your kids to get hit by a car or lost in a theme park? Toddlers and preschoolers love to be independent and haven’t yet developed a proper sense of danger. I’ve never leashed a kid but when I see them the parents always look EXHAUSTED. Give them a break.

  • Amy

    Personally, I am anti-leash unless there is a developmental delay (and I always assume that kids have a delay when I see them used, to avoid being that judgey side-eye giving witch).

    Instead, I use the following strategies with my 3 (typically developing) kids:

    1) hold onto the shopping cart or the stroller so that I know where you are,

    2) put your hand on the car right here and don’t move while I buckle your siblings (I also taught my kids to buckle themselves EARLY and have liberally used the sliding minivan doors so I can let everyone in at once),

    3) red light/green light (saying “red light” to stop them makes it a game, and makes them MUCH more likely to listen). I taught it to my kids as soon as they could walk, used it in situations where it mattered AND where it didn’t for practice, and it still works – they’re 10, 8, and 5. If they don’t stop they get a “ticket” – loss of a privilege or treat, usually,

    4) giving an older sibling responsibility for holding the younger kid’s hand worked well once the older kid was 8 or so, 

    5) using parking strategies (like parking in a less-crowded area of the lot, or adjacent to the store instead of across a lane of traffic) to minimize opportunities to get hit. Often my husband would drop me off with the kids at the door, and then park the car, especially during Christmas and other busy shopping times, or during special events when you have to walk 100 miles from the car to the event (sports, etc.).

  • Amanda W

    Amy, I am curious, did you have success with your kiddos around 18/19 months (or earlier)? Because if you could get a kid that age to hold on to a shopping cart or stroller consistently in a busy/exciting place then kudos to you! My little barely wants to hold my hand – she just wants to run and explore all the time and most of the time it’s me gripping her limp hand while we walk. So far the backpack leash doesn’t work (she sits down and refuses to move, much like the above poster), but I’d use it for special occasions like airports, etc if it would! (times when the double stroller isn’t practical. Got a 3 month old too who is usually in the Ergo or sling)

  • Kara

    So I think there are kids and situations in which those kids are safer on a leash. I do think there are a subset of parents that leash rather than taking the time to teach the rules, but I don’t think the use of the leash is the singular indicator of that problem.

    • SD888

      What an absurd comment. The parents who CARE are the ones who use a child ‘leash’ aka HARNESS regardless of what others think. Lazy parents don’t even bother. If their kid runs away in a crowd, they think OH WELL I’ll find them eventually.

  • Jeannie

    My mom had leashes when I was a kid so it never occurred to me it was weird. I didn’t have them for my kids because neither was a runner and they were good at holding hands when I asked. But would I have, had I a kid who ran? Absolutely. Safety comes first and to heck with judgers. I haven’t ever looked at a mom with a leashed kid and judged them. I think it’s fine and I think some kids, neurotypical or not, need them. 

    (Would I judge if the kid was being dragged and treated badly in a leash? Probably. But I’d do that if the kid was being dragged by the hand too.)

  • Maggie

    My son was a runner and took off one day at the mall when I let him out of the stroller to sit on a bench with me and eat a snack. I was carrying newborn in a sling and wasn’t nearly as fast. Also had empty stroller, diaper bag, and shopping bags to wrestle with. He ran into dark and crowded theatre, and in the 4 minutes it took me to find him (in the arcade of course!) I nearly died of anxiety. The worst part was that NOBODY seemed to notice a toddler streaking by all by himself or wondered where his caregiver was or stopped him. I didn’t go out with him for months after that. And I bought a leash. I figure there will be less judgement for having him tethered to me, than if I’m rushing around crazy-eyed demanding “Have you seen my child?” I never want to live through those terrifying moments again.

  • Brigitte

    I couldn’t bring myself to do a proper vote on this one.

    I feel pretty strongly about not using leashes.  Hand-holding, strollers with buckles, or carriers have covered all possible safety situations for us.  If we don’t think we can safely manage an outing even with those tools, then we just don’t go, or get a babysitter and leave the kids at home.

    However, safety is important and I understand that different parents will make different choices than I would to ensure the safety of their children.  Bottom line is I’m happy if the kids are safe, even if I can’t wrap my mind around the methods used.  

    And although it most closely represents my views, I couldn’t bring myself to click the option that said NO because the extra descriptive language used was super judgy and I’m not into that.

  • Sara

    I was pretty judgmental about leases before I had kids.  Now I have a 1 year old and start to worry as he gets more mobile and we think about having another child.

    Just last night when I picked my son up from daycare, there was another mom leaving with her 2.5 year old and her newborn.  She was loaded down with the newborn in a carseat as well as a diaper bag.  She firmly instructed the 2.5 year old to hold onto the handle of the car seat with her as they left the building.  They got about 10 feet and the toddler took off running to the other side of the parking lot.  Maybe it is time for a lease.

  • Flic

    I’m not a parent, but I cannot wrap my head around people judging parents for using harnesses.
    My parents have countless stories of my brother and I disappearing in the split second their backs were turned, and they were so so hot on safety, and explaining it all too us (also military brats living in some pretty dangerous places). But kids will be kids.
    If it keeps your kids safe, and doesn’t actually harm them in anyway, how is it a bad thing?!

  • Lydia

    Why is a stroller ok and a leash isn’t?  A leash lets them WALK and explore a bit in safety.   A stroller does not.

    • Deedee

      Exactly! For a two – three year old child I would be more judgy about them being in a stroller than on a leash. Walking is great exercise! Why is the kid sitting in a stroller all day? With food and sippy cups within easy reach? I think a leash is brilliant. The kid gets exercise, can explore a bit, but is safe and under secure parent control. Better than some of the chubby toddlers I’ve seen being pushed around everywhere eating and sipping and sleeping as they go.

  • Carolyn

    The backpack leash was a godsend to us in O’Hare airport when my daughter was 16 months old and I was pregnant!

  • Karisa

    I was a leashed kid and apparently (as I don’t remember or have emotional scarring because of it) I liked it better than holding my mom’s hand because I could wander a bit without losing them and vice versa. There was security in the freedom.
    Another argument for leashes is my younger brother who decided one day he didn’t want to hold my mom’s hand in the parking lot and so dropped to the ground and twisted his arm out of its socket. At least a leash has some leeway if a child decides to throw himself on the ground.
    It’s not like we were tied to trees and left to fend for ourselves.

  • MR

    I used to dislike the leashes too, but then I had my first child, and I realized how great they are. My eldest loved to walk on her own, but she didn’t like holding my hand while she did so. She would throw herself on the floor and have a huge temper tantrum, and I figured out it was because it was HARD for her to walk with one arm way up in the air! She would gladly walk by my side if her arms were down, but because I was so much taller, it made it hard for her to hold my hand. But, because she was so young, and kids that age are prone to just take off, I wasn’t comfortable with her walking without me being able to hold her. So, I bought one of those doggie backpack things with the leash, and gladly put it on her. It gave her the ability to walk independently, and me the security that if she took off, I’d be able to slow her down enough to at least catch her. I didn’t always put it on her, but if we were going somewhere that was crowded, she absolutely wore it. Kids can maneuver through large crowds way faster than adults can. Combine that with her speed, and I would never have been able to find her if she took off. So, yeah, the leash is awesome! Oddly enough, I never once had anyone make a negative comment to me about it. I don’t even remember getting any nasty side glances. I don’t know if it is just that I have a “I don’t care what you think” vibe or what. But, I did have at least 3 different people stop me and tell me that they supported me in using it. That they had one for their kids for similar reasons, and apparently these people had all heard nasty comments, so they felt the need to stop me and tell me something positive. Honestly, my daughter loved that backpack so much that even after she no longer needed the leash part, I just detached the leash and she would wear the backpack around. 🙂

    • MR

      Maybe I should have specified too, my daughter started walking at 7.5 months, so by the time she was 12 months, she was very good on her feet. I think that’s about how old she was when we got the backpack. Holding my hand was simply not an option with her being so little. When she got taller and it was easier for her to hold my hand, she did. It wasn’t a lack of teaching her the rules. Even with the leash, I taught her she had to stay near me and couldn’t walk around corners or go where I couldn’t see her. It was essentially an arm extension. And I am grateful for it.

  • Kay

    I was a leashed kid as a toddler.  My parents frequently had to take me into busy, high-traffic places like airports and they tell me I PREFERRED the leash. I wanted both of my hands free and they thought it looked painful for me to have to walk with one arm straight up in the air to hold my parents’ hand. Apparently I was very well-behaved and content to walk as long as I could swing my arms and hold my stuffed animal in my hands. So for those who side-eye the leash, it might be present because of the child’s tendencies or preferences, not the parents’.

  • JCF

    I have no problem with leashes whatsoever.  I figure anyone who uses one knows their kid and is trying to keep everybody safe and sane.  

    I have 3 bio kids (younger elementary school age) and 2 foster kids.  One is an infant, usually in an Ergo or stroller if we are out and about.  One is 5, but is bigger and heavier than my 7 year old, and has zero impulse control or sense of danger.  In a lot of ways, she’s like a 2 year old in a 7yo’s body.  She’s run into traffic and doesn’t respond even when I’m screaming her name.  She has frequent meltdowns in public, and I’m physically incapable of carrying her.  And she has poor motor control issues, and frequently falls flat on her face, especially when she’s bolting from me in a hurry.  A harness wouldn’t do me any good when she’s in full meltdown mode, but it could keep her from bolting into traffic or across a parking lot, especially if I’m momentarily distracted by one of the other kids.  And she hates having her hand held and likes to scream, “Why do you want to hurt me???” when I am holding her hand.  Alas, there’s no socially acceptable way to leash a 5yo (especially one who looks older), and she’s way too big for a stroller.  Unfortunately, all of this means I avoid taking all of the kids places by myself if at all humanly possible.  

    • Kate

      That’s really rough. My son is on the spectrum and there were several years after my daughter was born where I pretty much didn’t go anywhere because I couldn’t trust that I’d be able to manage the both of them if he had a meltdown or took off running (we had a harness but the only place he would tolerate it was at the beach). I don’t know if this would work for your little girl but he also wouldn’t hold hands because he said it hurt and what finally worked for us was a product called “Hold-on Handles.”

    • Angela

      Oh goodness!  In your case especially, I would leash the child anyway, social acceptability be darned!  It sounds like it would keep her from a high possibility of being injured.  Anyone who gives you a dirty look can take a flying leap off a tall building!  They don’t know you, your kids, or what you have to deal with on a day to day basis and therefore their opinions have no relevance.  Have an icy stare and a quick, terse response ready for any negative comments!

  • LT

    This is an internal debate I’ve been having for the past few months. We live on an island in the pacific. At all crowded events we go to or even the “large” stores we know most of the people there and a good majority of them are relatives. Kids are allowed to just run and roam, it’s part of the culture and everyone looks out for them. My son hates the stroller and any sort of carrier from birth. I have two solo trips coming up with him this month involving numerous airports. We’ve had lots of talks about in “America” he can’t run free like at home, but he’s two year old how far can that conversation really go. He’s pretty good about holding on to the stroller or cart, but he is also known for bolting. Luckily I only have the one kid. If I had two, I’d be all for the leash. 

  • S

    Parents of multiples are immune to singleton-having-folks’ judgement. Non-issue. Leash ’em up and hitch them when you have to. The reality is I never have actually witnessed leash judgement in person but got it good via computer for even considering the leash. I asked a friend with a child two years younger (because her kid is of more typical leash age) about what she’d do in a particular scenario (I’ve got an autistic runner), so she asked her pals (you know, SAHMs with one typically-developing singleton child) and they unleashed some shite about how I should just train my child. So either you’re on board with leashes judging those who aren’t, or you’re judgemental about leashes but believe in training children like a dog. That’s my takeaway.

  • Anna

    Any major event (big festivals at the harbor, fairs, that sort of thing), I was leashed as a child. My mother and I both have ADHD and having the physical tether went a long way in ensuring that neither of us forgot about the other. I was a runner, but worse I was distractible. One really cool booth full of sparkling headpieces and crowns? I could stand there all day; while my mom walked off not realizing I was with her. Leashes worked GREAT for us.

    We actually got even better with my ten-years younger cousin. We gave him the handle of a leash and flipped it to our belt. He felt responsible about keeping us close to him instead of the other way ’round. I babysat him pretty much every summer day from 13 to 17 (when I was 18 I had a job in the summer and he was big enough to help with haying and farm chores, so it was more like every other day then) and until he as 7, we used the leash trick for most trips into town.

    Both of us grew up fine.

  • Laura A

    I bought a leash backpack for my child when she was about 16-18 months – that was when she really started running, and had decided to boycott the stroller. I put it on her at home, and she really liked it, and liked running around the house with it. She has JUST starting being good about holding hands (at 2) but much prefers to run around and will try to slither out of your grasp when she sees something interesting. She just doesn’t listen when she takes off. I’ve gotten a few side eyes (don’t give a fig) but also several smiles when we walk with the backpack.

    I don’t exactly see how it’s lazy… when she’s on the leash, we’re still constantly looking out for her, but she’s having more fun. She can help push the cart, bend over to check out a flower, and walk up to someone friendly and say hi. Way better than being stuck right next to mom/dad or in the cart, any day. I guess people don’t give us too much friction because she’s so happy when she’s using it.

  • Kathryn

    I usually try to see both sides of most things, but I’m solidly anti-leash judgment. What an individual child is comfortable with or capable of varies wildly from child to child, and getting holier-than-thou about things that aren’t risking harm just makes me tired to contemplate.

    My two sisters were leash kids – one with the wrist tether, and one with the backpack sort of thing. It gave them a radius of exploration in the world and let them be independent.

    Is some of it for convenience? Sure, but why would that make it bad? Safety being easy is why I spent a million dollars on a carseat that practically installs itself, tightens itself to just the right spot and has enough comfort features the baby may never want to leave. Easy safety means it happens even when I’m tired, distracted, overwhelmed, etc. I don’t see people demanding that you drive children in cars without power breaks or steering, because those features are convenient. (You have to pay more attention if you crank the car yourself!) I’m all for lazy safety. Also lazy healthy eating. 
     

  • Kim

    I used a leash on my older daughter when I was going through the airport and knew I was going to need my hands free and my attention fully engaged.  I wasn’t traveling with a stroller, I had luggage and security checks to deal with, leash on.  Worked like a charm. Never used it again, but boy howdy, I would have when I took her to the zoo at 18 months and she refused to get into the stroller.  Every time I looked up, she was wandering somewhere else, usually into the path of another stroller.  Sometimes she had just stepped to the other side of me to look at the animal, but I still had a moment of panic until I located her.  It was completely nerve-wracking, for me and everyone whose path she wandered into, and I got plenty of judge stares for that, too.

  • Merissa

    I don’t have children yet, but I would use a leash if I had a child with a stubborn temperament or some issue that made safety extra concerning. I was anti-leash, until I worked at a large department store in a mall. I can’t tell you how many times a week we found toddlers all alone running through the store or frantic parents panicking.

  • S

    I have worked with special needs kids who are runners. It just is not safe to bring some kids places such as a mall where they could see something and take off in an instant. Some kids need a leash. My son has sensory issues so I just ignore the looks. I haven’t used a leash but if I needed to I would with my Olympic runner daughter. Rules of safety go out the window if she sees something she wants. There is no rationalizing with an over stimulated sensory needs kid in a busy event.
    S

  • Autumn

    My mother was always judgey about leashes, and then she met my daughter.  A runner.  She understood why in an instant.

    I didn’t have a leash for my girl, but I carried her everywhere, and if we were in a store, she was in a stroller or the seat section of a cart. As far as the carrying, didn’t get many looks cause we have had some snowy winters lately.  And all of her coats/jackets have hoods to make her easier to grab.  

  • flur

    I use a leash with my son he is a bolter 3 yrs and has been since he could walk i would not consider going any wear without it for his and everybody eleses safety.  I also teach safety at the same time he has to hold hands and we always go through safety scenarios while out and about he just doesn’t get it yet every child is different keep your kids safe and use a leash without feeling bad because of what others think.

  • Eli

    My husband is a “special needs” adult; he’s blind. Our kid is a bit of a runner, but even if he just wanders off 4 ft, his father has no idea where he is. Toddler-boy is not a huge fan of hand-holding, either, and carrying him everywhere one armed to simultaneously use his cane is swiftly becoming difficult. The leash lets them actually enjoy their walks.