To Leash or Not to Leash: The Child Safety Harness Debate

Picture this: you’re at Disneyworld with your three year-old twins. It’s just you and the kids among thousands of tourists. Attractions and rides are as far as the eye can see. Stores and restaurants are bustling. Disney characters meet and greet the kids. A marching band plays on a corner, while a train passes by. With eyes wide open, and so much to see, you’re little ones may run off in different directions. How do you ensure your kids stay close to you?

Since most kids are pretty active, some parents have turned to child safety harnessesto prevent their youngsters from straying while in public. With this gadget, staying close to your child adopts a literal meaning.

Harnesses are used mostly with toddlers, from walking age until they are about four years-old. The reins are typically latched around the child’s shoulders or worn like backpack that is fastened to the body. A tether, which is attached in the back of the harness, is held by the parent, serving as a leash for restraint.

This device allows kids some freedom to roam, while parents maintain ultimate control. The point is that kids don’t get lost, or get into trouble because they are harnessed to their caregiver.

Whether you call it a harness, leash, or reins, the contraption continues to trigger debate. Some parents see it as a helpful tool. Others frown upon the concept, considering it a barbaric practice. Psychologists have observed four benefits and four risks in using child safety harnesses. The debate continues here, starting with the benefits.

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8 Pro #1: Child Safety is Priority

Imagine walking with your twins from gate to gate in a busy airport. With the excitement of the journey ahead, and all that travelling entails, you may be feeling a little preoccupied. Your attention could easily be diverted for a few seconds. By that time, your little ones could be out of sight. The last thing you want or need is your children to run off into a crowd, or a dangerous area. This is not the time for exploration, but it may be the time to use a harness.

Child safety harnesses are used, as the name suggests, for safety. You wouldn’t normally use them when your kids are at the playground, or running around in the backyard. They are safeguards for children while travelling from point A to point B. Making sure everyone gets to the destination is the goal.

If your child has a history of running off, there is a legitimate threat to their safety. Traffic is always a major concern for parents with children. There’s a fear that kids will randomly dart into the road. Without a doubt, harnesses significantly reduce the risk of a child running out into traffic.

It’s understandable why parents would feel safer using a harness when near a busy intersection, at the airport, or at Disneyland because it acts as another level of security.

Regardless of any criticism from strangers, keeping your children away from harm is what matters. Safety is more important than sneers and disapproving looks from know-it-alls.

7 Pro #2: Harnesses Can Assist Children with Special Needs

Critics may scoff, but parents who use harnesses may have very good reasons that are not immediately apparent. Their child may have demonstrated behavior in the past that warrants a restraint mechanism. Kids with Autism, Down Syndrome, ADHD, and other sensory disorders can lack judgment when it comes to outdoor environments.

All children are different, so not all kids with special needs require a harness. Yet, special circumstances may call for youngsters to wear harnesses to help ease them into the world. Some compare child harnesses to training wheels on a bicycle.

One mother appreciates how a harness helped her deaf son. When he walked in front of her, he couldn’t hear her. It’s difficult to restrict your child when he doesn’t realize that you are calling him. The harness allowed her to “rein” him in whenever she wanted to talk to him. For this family, a harness was suitable for their needs.

When you don’t have special needs children, you are not aware of their day-to-day life. If you see a caregiver using a harness, this could be their last effective resort, or the most effective way to protect their child. For parents in desperate need, harnesses are a parenting tool that can provide peace of mind.

Harnesses provide a sense of security for the parents that they might not have had without it. Children of all sizes and ages like to explore and usually do so without taking notice of their surroundings. Using a safety harness allows you to know where your children are and reminds the child that hey need to communicate their needs and wants to you, rather than just following their latest interest.

6 Pro #3: Harnesses Offer Relative Freedom

There is a huge responsibility that falls upon parents to maintain constant surveillance on an active child. Holding hands would be ideal, but it’s not always possible, as with single parents who need to take multiple kids on an outing.

Critics argue that harnesses are confining. We have a tendency to think about leashes as something controlling. Depending on how you look at it, harnesses offer more mobility than being carried, pushed in a stroller, or held by the hand. Harnesses allow your child a certain amount of freedom of movement without losing sight of where they are.

For a child who is walking steady, yet still very young, a harness can be a satisfying compromise. A child will not have an opportunity to explore his environment if he is buckled into a stroller. With regards to containment, a harness can offer more freedom, but within guarded limits. Without a harness. children can escape your vigilance without so much as a moments notice by slipping into clothing racks at a store, or hiding on shelves, or following bright lights and sounds.

In these instances a harness would alert you to the needs and desires of your child rather than them straining in a stroller or slipping away unnoticed.

Some parents are thankful for having another option to a stroller. Kristen Howerton recognized how much more active and engaged her daughter became on walks because she switched to using the harness. Her daughter became a freer participant, feeling as if she had escaped the stroller.

Each child has a unique personality, and their needs should be adjusted accordingly. Parents need to evaluate if using a harness is a better option for their child. A harness might be the tool you need to teach your child how to walk by your side, or increase communication by teaching your little one to tell you when they want to see something up close.

5 Pro #4: Harnesses Have Practical Uses

Parents with many children can appreciate the hands-free system that harnesses provide. They admit that holding their children’s hands for a long period of time is uncomfortable for their kids.

Children have very short arms. Some almost have to stand on tip toes to reach mom or dad’s hand. Due to the contrast in height, kid’s arms aren’t long enough to hold mommy or daddy’s hand at ease.

Imagine holding one arm straight up in the air for 30 minutes. It wouldn’t take long before you felt tingling in your fingers. This is what little kids have to endure when holding their parents’ hands for a long time. A harness would make it more comfortable than constantly holding hands with their kids.

A harness is also a handy tool when your child is learning how to walk. When your baby takes his first steps, his limbs are wobbly. He lacks power in his legs that prevents him from standing firm. It’s a clumsy phase that can be supported by a walking harness.

The reins hold your little one securely by the chest. It allows you to gently guide your child’s steps, while keeping your baby balanced to avoid falls. Step by step, baby gains strength and stability.

Supporters have cited that the leash has also prevented their children from having serious falls. By the time they feel that their child is falling, they can hold the rope to lessen the impact. Reducing the risk of injury is a big plus.

If your family decides that you want to use a harness, buy one that is hands-free that can attach to your belt. Avoid options that fasten to a child’s wrist because they are more inclined to cause hurt or damage.

Not everyone believes in the practicality of child harness. Here are four risks that rebuke the argument in support of harness for children.

4 Con #1: Harnesses Don't Teach Children Self-Control

Some people have strong reactions against child harnesses. One complaint of those who oppose say “teach, don’t tie.” Harnesses obstruct children from promoting skills. Brain development thrives with practice. To teach our children, we must give them opportunities to learn. If they are bound, they will miss the moments that allow choice and responsibility.

For example, imagine walking down the street with your child, hand in hand. Since you’re walking side by side, you’re probably having a conversation. When you get to a traffic light, you push the button to cross. When the light turns green, you walk to the other side of the street. Even if all of this is not being described in detail, your little one is picking up how pedestrians conduct themselves when they are walking outside. It’s also much nicer learning road safety when you’re walking beside each other.

Kids learn when they pay attention. When they pay attention, they make better choices. Repeated experiences are the foundation of knowledge. Understanding how to be responsible demands an experimental approach.

Experts agree that a leash is a symbol that means you have lost control your child. Psychologist Susan Newman is not a fan of harnesses for children. She finds that using a leash is much like handling your toddler like a dog. Newman concludes that if children don’t receive boundaries early in life, parents won’t be able to take control when they get older. In short, as a parent, your words and actions should be enough to keep your child from running wild.

Harnesses may seem like an ideal solution now, but leaving the leash will help your kids in the long run. As older children, they may be faced with a crisis that can’t be avoided with a tug on a safety harness.

3 Con #2: Harnesses Restrict Children’s Natural Curiosity

Kids like to explore. They want to roam around, and examine everything.Giving them the freedom to walk without restriction allows them to discover new things.Using a harness will convey the message to your child that their territory is limited. It might also give the child that their curiosity isn't valid.

If your child is by your side, he will learn and pay attention to a great deal more.It’s the difference between what you see driving down a street versus walking down a street. The world will be seen in different eyes, and walking without restriction will become the more attractive option.

One mother claims that since removing the leash, her daughter has more awareness.She recognizes that freedom without reins has made her daughter more observant. When you depend on the harness to keep your children safe they in turn depend on you to control what they look at and where they go. Almost in a robot like fashion.

Survival is a basic need that we all want to provide for our children.At times, we have to intervene to take control of their safety. A four year-old may want to run across a busy street to retrieve his basketball, not knowing that impending danger is looming. With patience and guidance, we can teach our children restraint without reins.

Removing the harness also instills a feeling of trust between you and your child. The trust that you have that they are capable of making decision on their own, and that you trust them not to find trouble, but to stay away from it. Children will learn from you what is acceptable and what's not, but they can only learn if you first allow them the chance to seek out their curiosity.

2 Con #3: Harnesses Attract Negative Attention

The visual of a harness on a child is not a positive one. They are commonly identified with restraining an animal. For a child to be treated in the same manner looks a bit strange. For some, the product is inhumane. Others describe it as a disturbing apparatus that controls your toddler in a degrading manner.

Caregivers may feel uncomfortable about the negative attention that harnesses can attract. A family of twins and triplets are used to stares from strangers, and drawing a crowd. It’s fair to say that twins and triplets wearing harnesses will draw in much more scrutiny.

Experts agree that harnesses can be humiliating for children. The practice is considered somewhat disrespectful because the child is not being treated like a respected individual. It is much kinder to hold someone’s hand instead of dragging them around by a leash.

One parent remembers feeling embarrassed when tethered as a child.Lauren Jimeson would never leash her two children because she believes that there is a better way to exercise restraint. In her opinion, it’s never a good reason.

Psychologists Jennifer Hart Stein warns that using a harness could create embarrassment that eventually festers into shame. That kind of humiliation stays with you for quite a while.

In your child’s eyes, he may be embarrassed when he realizes that other kids are free while he is tied. To add insult to injury, your child may be reluctant to wear the harness because it feels constricting and uncomfortable. If he dislikes the harness enough, he will take it off by himself, which will defeats its purpose.

Some caregivers may use a harness because it exercises a physical and emotional control over the child, but parenting doesn’t have to be a one-sided, totalitarian state of rule. Parents can help their kids make good choices while being respectful of their feelings. If parents are simply trying to assert control in the child-parent relationship, they should engage with them through respectful communication.

1 Con #4: Harnesses Can Be Used for the Wrong Reasons

Certainly, we care about our children. It’s the reason we babyproof the house as soon as they start to crawl. As our children become more mobile, there is more risk for injury. Yet when using a harness, some parents don’t always monitor their kids as they should because they rely on the leash. There is a false sense of security that nothing can happen to their kids while they are attached, and it becomes a crutch. Critics say that using a harness is an excuse for distracted parenting.

On the other hand, there comes a point when youngsters are over-protected. Some parents take overly cautious measures. This type of parent hovers over their kids at the playground for fear that they will get hurt. It’s an inflated sense of anxiety rearing its ugly head. When this happens, parents pass up the opportunity for their children to listen and participate. As a result, they miss out learning valuable social lessons. Using a harness can hold your kids back, figuratively and literally.

Harness critics believe that our child raising abilities are decreasing due to this gadget. Leashes reiterate the fact that if you can’t control your own child, then you are the problem. While child leashes do have a value for some parents, not all children need a tether. You should try to teach your children to stay by your side before giving into the leash.

If you decide to put a safety leash on your child, then know that this isn't a permanent solution, but a temporary fix while your child learns basic safety rules. But if you constantly put a leash on your child, they aren't free to make mistakes and in turn, learn from them. You should try unleashed walks every so often to see if your child is willing to listen to you, but if you rely on the leash too often, they may not have the skills necessary to learn dangerous behaviour from the benign.

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