Recently, I engaged in a conversation with a Montessori teacher about child restraints – specifically, can child leashes be used in positive parenting? Is there ever a just reason for using a child leash?
While personally, I don’t think any issue can be cut and dry, I do think it is important to explore the reasons why parents use child leashes and consider alternatives.
I will first say that parents who use child leashes are doing so with great intent with their children’s best interests at heart. They are keeping their children safe in busy situations, while still allowing their children a mobility that strollers would not allow.
My first friend who used a child leash was a mom of three children under 18 months old. As anyone who has ever manipulated a single stroller in a store or crowded sidewalk can tell you — the world is not built for strollers, let alone a triple stroller.
In the case of my friend, and for many women, child leashes are a means of ensuring safety and mobility when caring for multiple children, or children with special needs. However, even in families or groups with multiple children, we should work toward an alternative and use the leash as a temporary stepping stone to a more positive and progressive parenting practice.
To put it plainly: a leash is not a long-term solution.
A child leash is something that makes outings a bit easier while parents are also working on establishing limits and safety precautions at home and whenever possible in public.
Why should a leash be temporary? A leash undermines a child’s ability to self-regulate, while also asserting physical control over their bodies. Think of how uncomfortable it would be to feel the chest harness tighten or pull you back if you ran too quickly. Think of what it communicates to the child, and communicates to those around you about that child. A leash is potentially replacing positive communication and growth about limits and expectations.
So, what is the alternative, or at least, what should we be working on parallel to using the leash to eventually remove our dependence on them?
What is our expectation? Does it elevate and think highly of our child, or is it expecting the worse?
And, are our expectations realistic? Do we need to build in opportunities to prepare our children for our expectations?
For example, if going on a walk, I need to ensure my child is fed, rested, feeling okay, and has time to walk at her own pace. I may need to remind my child of my expectations in a positive way before our walk, or ask them what the expectations are.
Having Firm and Consistent Limits
A big factor is having the same set of rules at all times, and the same natural or logical consequences.
Many parents who turn to leashes have difficulty with this — they either rely on punishment (which does little to teach impulse control) or have difficulty applying or allowing consequences, when necessary.
For example, we are not going to allow a child to experience the natural consequence of running into the street — but maybe we are going to apply a logical consequence in preventing that behaviour, such as offering a choice and explaining the rationale and consequences that accompany our expectations:
“You need to stay beside me. Stepping on the road without an adult is dangerous. People in cars aren’t looking for little people. Do you want to hold my hand, or do you want to walk on the other side of me [away from the street]?”
“You need to stay beside me. Do you want to hold my hand, or do you want to walk on the other side of me [away from the street]?”
If a child refuses logic – and let’s be clear, they have one chance not three – and natural consequences are inappropriate, then we must sometimes impose a choice onto our children, but we take the extra step to explain what is happening.
“I’m picking you up because you’re not making safe choices. I asked you to either hold my hand or walk on my other side, and I need to keep you safe.”
“Our walk is over now. We need to make safe choices about our bodies.”
Impulse control, learning to walk within limits, walking next to a parent without holding hands — all of these are skills that children must be allowed to build and practice in safe circumstances.
It is completely okay if they falter a few times, and sometimes the best way we can develop these skills is by giving lots of opportunities to practice in controlled environments. For example, practicing walking side by side in safe environments (apartment hallways, quiet malls) or at least controlled environments, like walking to the end of a yard or driveway.
I walk children along busy streets every day. The very youngest, under 18 months, are restrained in a wagon, while the children over 2 all hold on to the “magic walking rope” or hold each other’s hands.
I have never once had a child drop their ring on the rope, run away, or refuse to abide by the rules I have established with safe walking.
Why? Because they know the consequences. I will turn back and the outing will be over.
They have had opportunities to listen and practice new skills. We start with walks around our quiet side streets before eventually progressing to crossing busy intersections. There are also other experiences of listening and consequences in our day-to-day experiences apart from these walks.
Because I pay attention to their capabilities in that moment. Some days the kids need the rope as a reminder, some days they are good to just hold hands, and some days I am going to reschedule that walk to a better time for the kids.
What do you think about child leashes?
Image credit: Alex Thompson – Leashed Child ; Susan Sermoneta – Keep Your Kid on a Short Leash While Shopping