Should Parents Take the Lead?
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.
I want to hear from you — what are your best strategies for avoiding, or weaning off of, a child restraint such as a leash?
What do you think about child leashes?
For more Montessori-inspired parenting posts, check out our Montessori Approach to Sleep and 10 Ways to Stop Being a Permissive Parent.
Image credit: Alex Thompson – Leashed Child ; Susan Sermoneta – Keep Your Kid on a Short Leash While Shopping
I love your article about child leashes and harnesses. You are right on-point regarding expectations. It is important for children to understand what to expect in certain situations as well as what is expected of them.
You are also correct in that there is no “one size fits all” solution. Even the same family will have different solutions for different situations. As a father of 9 children with whom we travel all the time, I can tell you we use different strategies for touring The Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC versus some of the barrios in Guatemala City.
We would invite you (and all Mom and Dad readers) to also check out child leash alternatives, such as the Gripsterz character walking handle (http://vivevita.com/gripsterz). Some families may find this fits their needs better than some of the involuntary child connectors.
Best wishes, and keep on blogging!
Thank you for sharing your insights (and product) with us, David!
The child leash was a god send with my special needs son. He has Autism. He used it from ages 3-5. After that he was able to walk by my side without it. So I agree it’s a good temporary solution.
Thank you for your thoughtful and honest comment, Bonnie. It really is a necessary step in some situations and I do not want to deflect that 🙂
I too have a child with severe autism and have done without the leash use in 3 kids, but he’s almost 4, he doesn’t really understand most one step directions, and we’re planning on a camping trip next month that will be at a site that had inground pools, a huge river, Cars and roads right in front of where we’ll be (in a cabin) and he has NO sense of danger. He doesn’t understand if I tell him “no, Levi, you can’t go over there, the road/water/etc is dangerous, you could die.. But I also don’t want to spend my whole life holding his hand and not letting him explore certain areas because I don’t want to get into it myself. (for example, we went to the beach about a month ago, and he wanted to stand in the water, so I held his hand, but I had to be in the water too, and I didn’t want to be. lol if I had a few more feet on my arm, I could of let him stand in the foot of water, and I could of been dry. lol) Having kids with these kinds of special needs opens you up to things you would of never considered doing with your kids… like sticking them on leashes.. but I figure, In a world of people sticking dogs in strollers, and everyone seems just fine with that, I can stick mine on a leash lol
Thank you for taking the time to comment, Jennifer 🙂
This article was in response to a thread in a Montessori group that was decidedly “anti-leash” and another article that was also firmly in that direction, and I felt like they were taking too harsh or ignorant of a stand.
I think you are bang-on when you describe your situation as sometimes necessitating a leash! It’s not like you are putting your son on one at every turn – you’re evaluating which situations really warrant it and thinking of his safety first and foremost, and you should be respected for that – not given sideways glances or doubted. I hope that my article may encourage people to treat moms like you better and with a bit of kindness, and that you didn’t feel in any way judged by reading this.