Britain Is Tackling The Hotly Debated ‘To Leash Or Not To Leash Your Kids?’ Question

kids on leashesWhen I think of a kid on a leash, I am immediately taken to Disney World or some other amusement park. It is scorching hot and people are everywhere — and so are children being lead on a leash by their parents. I do understand the reasoning: the child probably has a penchant for making a run for it or perhaps has special needs. Still, I always feel bad for the child even if the leash they’re wearing has been made to look less restricting in the form of a teddy bear backpack. This is a long debated issue and with a new form of “reins” becoming popular in Britain, the question remains – is leashing your child the “right thing” to do?

The Boomerein — a leash — allows parents to tether their kids to themselves while leaving their hands free.

Inventor Mike Prosser has adapted one of his own creations – a tool belt for people working at height, on roofs or on oil rigs, which prevents tools falling into the sea or hitting co-workers on the head. The Boomerein cord attaches to the “toddler belt” behind the child’s back and winds in and out as they run about, giving them some freedom to roam (up to 90cms) but always within parent control.

The gadget has become popular with some parents but others feel that a good old hand hold and talking to should be able to do the trick. One mother stated:

“Reins remind me of taking a puppy for a walk that needs to be pulled back and taught to keep to heel.“I haven’t had the need to use them myself. It’s much nicer for the child to be holding a hand and therefore learn road safety and about other dangers from their parent or carer walking beside them.”

I am all for prioritizing the safety of children and I’m sure some children really need to be literally reined in. I just hope people stop short of implementing electric fences in their backyards and putting collars on their children. I know fences make good neighbors but do leashes really make good children?

(photo:  rachelbernard / flickr)

Be Sociable, Share!
Be Sociable, Share!
  • C

    Wow. It’s not a case of slippery slope here. Kids will not be put in collars nor will they be given some little house in the yard. Children are very curious by nature and extremely fidgety. Its hard often hard to restrict a child in public when they want to be out and about, especially at an age where they may be too difficult to be carried. I feel leashes are helpful because it allows a parent to carry on what they need to do without tightly grasping the crap out of a fidgety curious child’s hand and the child will have SOME mobility to stretch a bit, take a few steps and or look at things. My sister was not special needs, she was just VERY rambunctious as a child. At stores, she would run and hide in the middle of clothes racks, shed stay so quiet that wed spend our whole time allowance looking for her, not only that if she ran and we ran after her, she would run faster thinking that we were playing with her.
    Shaming people who use them pretty much tells them that they are not allowed to have their curious children in public. And I’m sure I’ll get a response from every mother that has tamed their kid to never be curious about anything or move one inch away from them, I look forward to your book on how my mother raised my sister wrong and you did it right.

    • alice

      good for you.

      the *disdain* for child harnesses is so illogical. it’s based 100% on a *yucky* correlation we form between dogs/children. which is natural. but shouldn’t stop anyone from recognizing how flawed that correlation is. or how ridiculous it is to link harnesses to a form of bad parenting because you find it *unsightly* !!

      there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in poor taste/judgement/ethics about tethering a child in public spaces. i would even challenge the judgey onlookers to suggest what they think are the *good parenting* alternatives.

  • Maureen A. Eggert

    As long as they are not used on older children to embarrass them I see nothing wrong. Little kids are not only quick and “slippery” but they have very short arms. Who hasn’t seen some poor tyke with his/her arm up in the air, almost on tip toes, as mom or dad tries to hold on to kid’s hand? I think it would be much more comfortable for parent & child.

  • Jussame

    I would judge another parent’s decision to use a leash with their child as quickly as I would judge their decision to give the kid a soother, a bottle of forumla, a smartphone to play with… i.e. not at all. Some kids may stand on the sidewalk docilely while their parents ask them to wait or may keep at arms-reach in a crowd, and other kids are runners. I don’t know anything about them – who am I to have an opinion on whether a parent’s attempts to keep them safe are right or wrong?

  • Ordinaryperson

    I leash my daughter, because I’m terrified of that split second it would take for her to run into traffic if the leash wasn’t attached. I don’t use it every time we’re out and about, but if I know we’re going to be in a busy parking lot, and I have my other kid with me, I like having the added security of her being tethered to me for when my attention may be split between the two. She’s never made a run for it, she stays by my side just by being told to, but I’d still rather be safe than sorry.

  • Kay

    I have been on both sides. During my first pregnancy I always said I wouldn’t leash my kid. Then I had my child. I would often run around chasing him and that was fine. Then I got pregnant with my second and my son (who we later discovered has Autism) wouldn’t hold my hand and I couldn’t chase him anymore. Once it got to that point I leashed him. It was for his safety. I would do it in crowded areas or by busy streets. He had a tendency to run off absolutely HATED holding hands, screamed when in a stroller, and refused to be worn. This felt like my only option and I did it. I always felt like I was being judged.
    Maybe before we judge parents for doing it we should consider all options.

    • Kay

      I meant “Maybe before we judge parents for doing it would should consider all factors as to why.”

    • Lastango

      Feeling like you’re being judged must have made it doubly-hard to do what you think is right and necessary.
      BTW, leashes are also sometimes used on developmentally-disabled adults when their carers take them to public places. That must at times be an especially difficult choice for the staff to make. Developmental disability comes in many variations, and these people can retain a capacity for being humiliated.

  • Amy

    I used to have a somewhat negative reaction to leashes on children, but at some point it occurred to me (and I may have read it in an article, I can’t recall for certain) that leashes actually afford young children more freedom than being held or holding hands or being in a stroller, etc. For a child who is fairly comfortably walking, but still very young, who wants to explore the world a bit, a leash can be a happy medium. I think we tend to associate them with controlling the child, but they really are less controlling than some other ways of keeping our children close at hand. I don’t know if I will ever use one or not — my first child is only 2 months old — but I can see how they might be helpful. Of course, if someone was using them on a child beyond a fairly young age (not sure what that would be in my mind — 2? 3?), I would probably look askance, though never knowing anyone’s story or situation, I think I would at least try not to judge.

  • Elissa

    I’m not a parent and I used to be squeamish about the fact that they leashed me as a child…until they told me why.

    I am the oldest and I never developed a fear of strangers, crowds, or anything else that typically frightens young children. I would walk away with anyone who asked me to, leave places that I no longer wanted to be the second they turned their backs, and generally just disappear at my first opportunity.

    Now that I’m older I totally understand why I got leashed. I was an adventurous child with a scary/stupid level of fearlessness and my parents were just doing the best they could. No shame in that.

    • Annie

      How scary!

  • Iwill Findu

    My mother was dead set that she would never use a leash on any of her children and thought that people that did were just lazy parents. Then my older sister had hearing problems and loved to run, so she ended up using a leash for her and all of us that came after. It was a safety issue how do you just talk to a toddler that can’t hear you and if they’re back is to you they don’t even know that you’re calling for them. It allowed my mother it take care of her new born (me) without having to leave my deaf sister in the care of the 6 yr old well out in public, because she couldn’t just wonder off. My sister is now able to function without a hearing aid but I often get told not to yell when I speak in what became a normal indoor voice in my childhood home.

  • MommaB

    I think leashes for kids are great, I am a mother of 4 and my first 3 were very close together, there’s only a year between each of them so I had leashes because I didn’t have 3 hands and if 1 was walking they all wanted to walk together. My daughter wire her harness until she was 4 and a half, not by my choice but by hers with it on she knew that I always had a grip on her and she didn’t need to walk with a hand above her head. Did I get dirty looks? yes. Did people comment on it? yes they did. But I’ll take that feeling of safety for both me and my child over a strangers approval any day!

  • Melissa T

    Ok, I have to admit, I was adamantly anti-leash. As a nanny, and then with my first child, I was outspokenly disdainful of them. I felt as you did…I felt bad for the kids, and that it was an insult to their personhood to treat them as animals, especially when a good hand hold would do.

    Then I had my second child, and a chance to go to Disney World on my parents’ dime. I literally agonized about whether or not to go, because imagining airports and lines and overstimulating crowds and my active, hates-the-stroller, always climbing toddler seemed a nightmare. Someone suggested one of those backpack leashes, and at first I was horrified. But the more I thought about it, the more I was willing to try it.

    And I’m glad I did. It saved my sanity and probably her life. Instead of sitting in a stroller, she was an active and engaged participant. She didn’t feel constrained by it, she felt freeER, because no one had a firm grip on her hand at all times. I had to eat a lot of crow.

    I wasn’t a different mother to her in the sense that I did all the right things with my first to make her compliant and happy to hold hands when necessary and all the wrong things with my second, so it wasn’t my parenting. It was her unique needs and personality. I’m glad that there was an option out there that allowed us to take a family trip and yet meet everyone’s needs.

  • Gangle

    I kind of wonder about why this has to be such a big deal. My sister never used a leash with her kids. A close friend of mine did. Both sets of kids are happy, well loved and behaved.
    Why do we have to be so pernickety about parenting choices?
    Really the questions shouldn’t be based around ‘do you breastfeed’ or ‘do you use a child leash’.
    The questions should be: Is this child clothed and clean and fed? Is this child loved and protected by his/her parents? Is this child happy? If all that is taken care of, who cares about the details.
    Also, I have never seen a kid on a leash that looks downtrodden or unhappy. They have all looked pretty sparky to me.

  • Allison

    I really really don’t understand the leash hatred. I was the sort of kid who would constantly run out into traffic/should have counted for a Darwin award, so my parents used a leash and I’m a (relatively) normal individual.

  • Annie

    I’m all for leashing kids as long as you’re not dragging them, and are paying attention.

    One of my nieces used to run off the SECOND you stopped the car, she’d get out of her carseat and just take off. My brother and sil would always bitch about how she’d dart in front of cars but would sneer derisively at my suggestion to get a leashed backpack with “NYAH, SHE’S NOT AN ANIMAL, DURRR”.

    Yeah, because kids that age totally have that human dignity thing down pat. When I took her out for outings I secretly leashed her because she was SO into running off and I couldn’t carry her every second.

    Some kids don’t run off from their parents/handlers, others do. Those who do shouldn’t be judged when it comes to such an important safety matter.

  • BlueBelle

    I have little to contribute to this conversation except this: I’m an American, but I live in the north of England. One of the first things I noticed was the number of children on leashes. It was incredible. I’d never seen anything like it before.

    I do think it makes a lot of sense, though. Particularly in a city where your feet and public transport are your main sources of getting around. You’re doing the shopping, you’re waiting for buses on the sides of busy streets, you’re pushing another one around in a pram, you’re in and out of a million stores. A little peace of mind is nice.

    It seems to get contentious when you have a kid on a leash in places where it isn’t deemed necessary and it gets into the “can this kid not be controlled?” territory: taking a walk around a quiet neighborhood; being leashed from the car, led through a deserted parking lot, and into a small store for 10 minutes — but you never know why, so I think it’s best to reserve judgement.

  • ohYESidid

    Besides the safety issue (the most important one), for us it was also a comfort thing. Imagine, if you will, having your hand held by someone twice (or more) your height. Walking around for possibly hours with your hand and arm hoisted up & dangling in the air by a big, old, hot &/or sweaty hand. Not fun. The leash not only stopped our little ones from wandering off, it also saved wear & tear on their little arms & hands.

  • JAN

    Although I’ve never used a leash with my children, I try not judge. As a parent, who among us hasn’t done something we never thought we’d do?

  • Rachel Sea

    I do not understand the fuss. I’m a huge proponent of leashes in crowds. It gives the child freedom of movement within reason, and prevents major problems when excitement sends them rocketing off, heedless of you, other people, or danger. Hand-holding is good and all, but sweaty little hands are slippery, and I like having a backup.

    Almost every family has a stroller, and hardly anyone disdains strapping a child into a wheeled chair, though they are perfectly capable of walking.

  • whiteroses

    I was leashed as a child. My mom got a lot of crap for it. Once, a woman stopped her and snidly informed her that I wasn’t a dog. My mom told her the story of how, a year before when I was two and a half, I walked away from her in a mall. She realized I was gone and followed me, keeping me within arms reach at all points, because she wanted to see how long it would take me to panic and start looking for her.

    I didn’t. At the age of two and a half, I managed to walk across an entire shopping mall essentially on my own and cross a parking lot. I was completely unfazed. Mom managed to stop me from getting inside a stranger’s Cadillac (my grandparents owned a Caddy that was the same color), and the next day, she bought a leash. I’m pretty sure it saved my life more than once. And if my son is anything like me, that child will have a leash shaped like a monkey strapped to his back as soon as he can walk, whenever we’re in public.

  • life5678

    The ANTI-LEASH parents are the same ones that leave their kid stuck in a stroller everywhere they go. My 2 year old son really prefers the leash to the stroller. He throws a fit if we take the leash off and try to put him in the stroller instead, so which is better? The leash is just another tool in a parents arsenal, like car seats, strollers, bouncers, back/front carriers, play-pens, gates, and a host of other restraining devices. If you restrain your child in any way, it is no different than the leash, so stuff it.

  • Carol @IfByYes

    Great tips on walking your toddler “off leash” here:

  • RW

    I don’t understand how this is even an issue. I maintained before I had kids that it’s probably not any different than training a dog, and now that I have kids I know 100% that this is true. Problem is most people can’t even train their dogs, let alone cognizant human beings. My dog is very well behaved and obedient, but in public places I put him on a leash. Why? For one – his safety. He sees something he just HAS to investigate and disobeys me, he could get hit by a car. Two – comfort of other people. Some people are afraid of/dislike dogs – the last thing they want is a german shepherd running up to them, even if he is super-friendly. It’s no different with kids. Their safety, and the comfort/sanity of those around them. My kid doesn’t need to be poking about someone else’s shopping cart, grabbing at their baby, bothering them at their restaurant table or otherwise terrorizing them.

    So why is it so awful to keep a kid within arm’s reach without having to bend over and grab their writhing, resisting hand? At least the leash gives some distance and perceived autonomy while keeping them safe and in the parent’s control.

    I love the Boomerein idea – I’d love to see it for sale in Canada!