During my recent travel abroad, I was astounded to see some parents taking their toddlers out on leashes! Leashes came in different varieties - some had a fur cuff placed on wrists of both the parent and child, while some others came as animal backpacks with a long tail serving as the leash.
Generally, parents carry their toddlers or hold their hands in public places to keep them safe. I wondered what motivated parents to use such a device. I suppose they may argue that children get restless and wriggle and may even run off and get lost in a public place. They may even feel that using a leash gives the child a little more freedom to explore the environment. Probably parents of twins or triplets, or very active children may choose to use leashes as they find managing their children in public places hard.
Yet, many of us may be very uncomfortable to use leashes for children as for us a leash corresponds to pets. It's hard for us to know how the child feels about it. Does it make him feel tied down or safer? Does a child actually prefer it to a stroller as it offers more mobility? Is a parent showing lack of respect and trust in the child's capabilities? What happens once a child outgrows it?
Standing in the airport and pondering over my initial shock and judgment towards the parents who choose to use leashes, I wondered if it really is so different from other child restraining devices such as prams and baby carriers?
As a parent educator I know that children have a strong developmental need for exploration and movement. Each and every experience children go through builds neural connections in their brain. Every time children explore, run, jump or touch things around them, they are learning and making sense of the world around them. Their brain is propelling them to do so, it is not because they want to make our life difficult. A child also must eventually learn how to keep himself safe and develop impulse control. I pondered if a leash harms the development of the child in these areas?
Using a leash cannot be a substitute to teaching a child values of self-control and acceptable social behaviour. For that, parents need to communicate respectfully and guide children through role modelling.
It's also important to be mindful of how the child is viewing the leash as she grows. Does the child feel she is being labelled as “naughty” or “unmanageable”, as they may notice that only a few children are on leashes. Would that have an impact on self-esteem?
As we raise our children, we might encounter new products in the market and ideas that promise ease for parents. We need to always keep in mind this guiding quote by Yahoo! writer Jennifer Phillips, “We are all unique individuals, with unique children, in unique situations trying to do the best we can, and make the best decisions we can for our unique families.”
Author: Sunitha R. is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connections in families.