Is it OK to put your child on a leash? Why some experts say the practice may 'send the wrong message.'

·6-min read
What happens when a parent puts their child on a leash? Experts say the practice may teach kids they're untrustworthy. (Photo: Getty Creative)
What happens when a parent puts their child on a leash? Experts say the practice may teach kids they're untrustworthy. (Photo: Getty Creative)

For parents, it can feel like a challenge to keep their child safe while crossing the street or navigating a crowded place. Some feel confident simply holding onto their kid's hand, while others turn to safety harnesses, putting their child on a leash to ensure their little one stays nearby.

Although some moms and dads consider a leash-style harness, complete with shoulder straps and wrist links to be just another step in their daily routine, others feel putting their child on a leash is a definite no-no. But are there situations where leashing kids is the right choice? Is it OK to put your child on a leash? Or is the practice damaging and outdated for toddlers?

For some parents, leashing works

Arieal DeLotte, an Austin, Tex.-based mom who blogs at TAJ Things, has two kids ages 2 and 3. DeLotte believes if the leash-wearing is in the name of safety and danger prevention, it's worth the strange looks — and that it's totally OK for kids.

"I have used a leash on my children twice when I was alone with them amongst a huge crowd," she says. "If I'm unaware of the environment or if I want them to feel free and experience an event, I will bring my leash, which connects all three of us together."

DeLotte shares that in her experience, the leash has given her children more independence: She doesn't feel it will have adverse effects later in life.

"Personally, I don't think it will cause them any issues down the line, as it's not a constant practice," she says. "There has to be a large crowd in a an unfamiliar place with no assistance for me to leash my kids. And before we leash, I explain so they can expect what's happening."

While DeLotte has found a way to incorporate the practice when it makes sense for her and her family, other parents feel there is no situation that warrants leashing.

Experts weigh in on kids and leashes

Kimberly King is a body safety educator, parenting expert and the author of I Said No! A Kid-to-kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private. As an expert and mom to three children of her own, she feels seeing a child on a leash is a major red flag.

"I have seen people with their kids on leashes and I just want to scream," King, who lives in Shelton, Conn., tells Yahoo Life. "Little developing humans — children — need to develop self-control and body autonomy. Putting a child on a leash limits choices and sends the wrong message."

King believes by using a leash, parents are sending their children very clear communication: "You have no choice, you can not be trusted, you don't listen." She also thinks the use of a leash on children has the potential to create psychological problems in the future.

In addition to risks to their mental health, King shares that leashes can pose a risk to physical safety.

"Leashes can pose a fall risk, a choking risk and are a disaster waiting to happen, as it's super-easy to trip over your own leash," she says. "If you are not paying attention, a leashed child can still run suddenly and take you by surprise, causing a trip and fall."

King says, in addition to trips and falls, parents can accidentally cause serious injury to their children using leashes. "A parent can yank on a leash and pull the child backward too hard, resulting in a head injury," she says. "Children have two legs, not four, so a child is one yank away from becoming suddenly unstable."

When leashing makes sense

Jen Bradley is a mom of five who runs the parenting website Jen Bradley Moms. The Wichita Falls, Tex. mom recalls a special trip that prompted her family to try out leashing. "When my oldest two boys were very rambunctious toddlers, we took a trip across the Southwest United States," she says. "I was definitely nervous about taking them to the Grand Canyon because I knew how much they loved to run. I also had read that strollers weren't ideal for touring the Grand Canyon and didn't want to invest in the big backpack carriers either."

Bradley found tiny backpack leashes online and gave them to her boys, who loved having their own little bags. "There was just enough room in the backpack to fit a little snack," she recalls. "They really didn't even seem to realize that they were attached to a leash."

Bradley says while the leashes never became a part of their daily outings, they filled a specific need perfectly. "Because the leashes doubled as backpacks and we only used them a few times in very specific situations, they were a great, although temporary, solution," she says.

What do adults who were leashed as kids think?

Michael Freeby, a photographer and host of the Future Fashion Icons podcast says as a child, his mother utilized a leash. He reflects on how the memory makes him feel as an adult. "My mom once put me on a leash — the way delivering that line feels is beyond embarrassing," he says. "That should be enough to convince anyone to please not put their child on a leash."

While Freeby reports he doesn't feel long-term trauma from the event as his mother only tested it out once or twice, he still feels that the practice "lacked respect."

"It is traumatizing from a broader scope because it's one incident in a legacy of disrespect," he says. "When a parent puts their child on a leash, you have to realize it's not just that: If they're willing to put the child on a leash, what other selfish things are they willing to do? The bar of respect for the child is set very low, to say the least … and yes, it was uncomfortable."

What's the alternative to putting a kid on a leash?

King says, "parents [should] teach children to develop self-control and follow rules to be safe over time with support, guidance, and communication."

"Most young children have impulse control issues," she adds, "and for children with impulse control issues, active adult supervision is always a better choice than a leash."

For parents who are considering leashing, King shares options that may be worth testing out first.

"If you are worried about losing your child in an airport or theme park, put them buckled up in a stroller or backpack," she says. "They will be safety contained from running. If you are moving a group of 18 preschool kids on a field trip, try using a long ribbon to just hold on to, or the old-fashioned handhold."

King reminds that each family is different: At the end of the day, parents know their child best.

"If your child has developmental disabilities or communication challenges, I can understand why some type of a kid-friendly backpack leash system might be needed," she says. "Some children can not listen to directions or control any impulses. In these situations, be extra-attentive to your child to prevent accidents. If you have tried everything else and you feel the leash is really a safety benefit, then go for it."

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