The debate: Should you use a leash to control your toddler?

Two moms face off on the topic of using a leash to control your toddler.
Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

“No, you should not use a leash to control your toddler
Online managing editor, Nadine Silverthorne, mom of two

When my daughter was two, we were given an adorable ladybug backpack. As I unpacked the tissue paper stuffing, I found a long belt with a clip — it was a leash to attach to the backpack.

As a toddler, Lucy was a tank of a girl. Squirmy, defiant, independent — she was a real departure from my gentle, extra-cautious older child, Nate. As my friend Alyson Schafer, who makes her living as a parenting expert, once quipped over lunch, “Those children are the ones who really teach us how to parent.” (Having seen and solved it all, her attitude was far more positive than mine.)

Read more: How to deal with defiant kids>

While Lucy was more likely to take off on me than I was comfortable with, never for a second did I consider using that leash. I don’t like to judge, but since it seems to be a genetic by-product of becoming a parent, I’ll say it: I think parents who use leashes look lazy. It seems cruel to yank a child around town rather than take the time to teach him or her how to behave in public. You want to go out with Mom, Dad and big bro? You gotta learn the ropes, kiddo (without an actual rope).

I’m rarely surprised when I see tantrums and bad behaviour erupting from tethered tots. Even responsible dog owners have a technique, usually learned in puppy school, that respects their canine while teaching him how to follow the rules and stay safe. I’ve never seen a similar method used in a kid-leash situation.

Did I innately know what to do with my little Usain Bolt? Heck no. But I learned the call-and-response method from watching other moms. We’d go to a park (far from cars, of course) and I’d let Lucy go. At 20 feet away, I’d call “Freeze!” I rewarded her when she complied, and eventually, it became a habit. We tried the same thing on the sidewalk. If she started to run, back into the stroller she went. We repeated as needed, until it stuck. (Sounds a bit like puppy training, doesn’t it?)

If you can’t handle the juggle of several kids in an open environment, buddy up with friends or family who can help. Teaching your child the rules while crossing the street or walking around the zoo is your job as a parent. So, next time you’re tempted to reach for that leash, “Freeze!” Good girl.

“Yes, you should use a leash to control your toddler”
Amy Morrison, mom of two

I’m totally pro-leash. Why people think they’re cruel is beyond me. Our society feels it’s OK to put a harness on a horse or a dog, or even a ferret to stop it from running o ff, but I’m supposed to let my children — whom I lovingly gestated for 40 weeks, and who forever ruined my body — run in front of a dump truck?

Carrying your kids makes sense until your child wants “down,” or your back gives out (or both). Holding hands is both awkward and uncomfortable for any extended period of time — think of the last time you held someone’s clammy hand for two hours straight (I’ll wait). Keeping them in a stroller is fine, unless you’re at a hilly park or neighbourhood where pushing the thing feels like climbing the Andes. Wagons work until that golden age when kids freak out because they don’t like being buckled in, then decide to stand up and promptly fall out — usually landing in some gravel, often while eating something less than nutritional. So, then you’re picking up a wailing toddler covered in dirt, snot and sticky cotton candy goo. “Whatever shall I wear to pick up my Mother of the Year award?” you think to yourself.

I have two little boys, and I’ve never used leashes with them, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to. I simply avoided situations where there’d be a crowd or busy streets — places where a leash would have been the perfect solution. Sadly, I couldn’t handle the hairy eyeballs and the murmurs about “teaching obedience” from onlookers, and I sure couldn’t handle the terror of something happening if I let them run around on their own. You know that sinking feeling when you look down and your child isn’t at your side? Your heart pounds, you break out in a sweat, and then you spot your toddler just as he says, “Look, Mommy!” and steps excitedly into a crowd that swallows him up? I couldn’t take it. So my kids and I missed out on a lot of cool stuff because I cracked under the pressure of fear and social judgment.

Look, whether it’s a leash, wristband, or cute backpack thing, the goal is to keep our children safe. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

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