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My wife and I are currently debating whether or not we should use a child harness (aka leash). It'd be great to take our son to the park and let him walk around on his own without having to chase him everywhere. However, I've always been against the idea of putting a leash on my child though now as a parent I understand why one would want to. Would love to know what others think, pros and cons to using one, and possible recommendations if we do decide to use one.

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The pros are more physical (you know where your child is) and the cons more social (people tend to frown upon the concept, right or wrong). –  DA01 Mar 15 '12 at 21:07
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People who frown upon it are idiots. That being said, you shouldn't have to use a harness for very long. –  Steve Taylor Mar 16 '12 at 19:44
    
We used a harness in busy places .. travelling, amusement parks, the mall .. mainly to avoid her getting lost in the crowds. –  tomjedrz Mar 20 '12 at 3:51
    
If you're at a park with your child, play with your child. You wont need a harness. –  Brian Robbins Jul 3 at 15:50

7 Answers 7

Yes, use a harness

We bought one that looks like a cool kids backpack but has a 3 foot long cord. The children love wearing it as we put their toys/comforter, some fruit and a drink inside. We use it every time we go out walking near roads or area where we need to be sure they won't run off. It has prevented them running in front of cars at least three times (particularly in car parking areas) and also stopped them hitting their head on hard ground when they fell as I used the cord to lower them slowly.

When your children are able to understand not to run off or towards traffic, you can reduce the use.

Some people think it is cruel. I wouldn't know - but my children have not been hit by cars, still have all their teeth and no scars on their faces.

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When children start walking - and for the next year or so - they have an unhealthy attraction to the road. Your child's safety is far more important than the looks you'll get from bleeding-heart, childless know-it-alls, so I would say yes, get a harness.

You can get a harness with a soft animal toy build into it, so it looks like a cute little animal is hitching a ride. Our son quite liked it. It seems to change other people's perception from "isn't that cruel" to "isn't that cute".

Think of the harness in the same way as training wheels for a bike. You use it to teach a toddler to walk on paths and only cross the road when it's safe. You won't need it for long because from about 18 months onwards they're quite happy to hold your hand.

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thanks, thinking of it as training wheels for walking is indeed helpful. –  detour Mar 19 '12 at 17:11

I bought one for my son when he was about 18 months old and wanted to walk everywhere, but everywhere literally meant EVERYWHERE.

Honestly, we only used it maybe 10 times. It wasn't that our son minded wearing it, we just didn't use it as much as we thought we would--mostly because kids that age generally don't really get that far away from you even if they do sort of wander off. Our daughter is now around that same age and we haven't even bothered--whenever we take her somewhere like a park, we allow her some space and stay within about 2-3 feet of her. If she's climbing on a play structure we stay closer in case she takes a nosedive.

If we were to go to an amusement park or something like that, I can see the benefits of the leash being greater because it is so easy to lose your kid in places like Disney even if they only get a few feet away from you, but for day-to-day stuff we didn't find it incredibly useful.

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Apart from how ridiculous I think it looks (baby!=pet), my experience is exactly as Meg states. I've never used a harness, and I can't say I've ever been in a situation where I needed one. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Mar 15 '12 at 21:47
    
I once saw a guy with triplets in a busy town centre. He had harnesses and I completely understood why! Having said that, never used one with my kids, mostly because we stuffed them in a pushchair/stroller whenever we were in 'dangerous' places. –  Benjol Apr 5 '12 at 12:19
    
@Benjol: I think if I had triplets, I might lock myself in the house until they were about 6! I can't imagine trying to keep track of 3 toddlers in a public place! Maybe it's just been the spacing of my kids. When A was at that stage, it was always either 1:1 or 2:1, and then after C was born, she was in an infant carrier and they were both pretty easy to keep track of. Now that she's at that age, A is older and I don't have to worry about him running off as much, and I've all ready said how we deal with her. Since we live in the suburbs, we don't typically walk around dangerous roads :) –  Meg Coates Apr 5 '12 at 15:32

We didn't use harnesses for our kids, despite both of ours being of the sort mentioned above - running all over the place, very active, not tending to stay in one place for long. (I guess that's just "kids", but ours felt more active than others I've seen.)

We didn't avoid them out of concern for social issues (meh, I don't fit in and neither does my wife, and we don't care much). We chose not to use harnesses because of two reasons, somewhat interrelated:

  • We believe in independent children who are raised to make good decisions for themselves
  • We want to teach our children not to do dangerous things (run in traffic, take off at the mall or crowded areas, etc.), because we won't necessarily always have the harness.

Our approach was simply to make sure we focused on teaching from around 15-18 months what to do in these situations. I walk with my children (15 and 35 months) to the park on a nearly nightly basis before or after dinner, about 2 blocks. I use this as a great teaching tool: they have to follow all of the rules (hold hands for crossing street, stay on sidewalk inside me (away from the street from me), not run too far ahead); and I don't have to worry too much if they misbehave a little, because it's entirely residential, slow and quiet streets that rarely have traffic and if there is a car, I can be extra cautious - so if they don't follow the rules perfectly (like walking into the street unescorted), the consequences aren't dire and I have a buffer.

As a result, my 35 month old behaves perfectly on the sidewalk - stopping at every street or alley, even insisting I hold his hand if I forget. Even if he's having a "wild day", that doesn't mean he runs onto the street; he is sufficiently wild on the sidewalk. My 15 month old is learning, but since we're doing it now - when he's too slow to get in any real trouble - I'm confident he'll get there also, without serious danger.

I certainly wouldn't judge anyone who felt a harness was the safest way to handle their children, any more than I judge parents who hover near their children at the playground or limit their activities out of fear of getting hurt. I don't judge them and I don't want them to judge me for being too accepting of risk with my kids. I don't agree with those choices, personally, but it's just that: a personal choice of how best to raise children.

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We used one of these cute monkey harness/backpacks a few times and it was great. We used it in very crowded venues (summer fairs, aquariums) where our daughter wanted to run everywhere and look at everything. It took the stress right out of those events, knowing that she was right there. Not only did we not get any funny looks, other people were clearly interested in getting the same thing.

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We used one a fair bit at that middle toddler stage with all three of our kids - when shopping, at festivals, anywhere crowded or when walking near busy roads it helped us in three ways:

  • we knew they wouldn't suddenly randomly run into the road
  • we knew we wouldn't lose them

and most importantly

  • when they tripped and fell we could catch them before they faceplanted. At that clumsy stage in walking development they are very handy.
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We have a very spirited 3.5 year old, and we have never used a harness on him.

I believe in raising independent kids, and teaching them how to act in traffic - but that doesn't I don't understand the idea of putting a safety leash on!

What we did do however, is to require that he holds hands when crossing the street, and when waiting on the crosswalk sign. We have also gently held on to his clothing at a heavy intersection when he was a little younger (so he didn't run off).

When we are in a very busy place (like a park/fairground/mall) when he was younger we would sometimes use the stroller to make sure he stayed with us, but he loves to walk. We generally do let him roam a bit, but ask that he holds hands when there are lots of people. We usually also write our phone no on his arm with a sharpie when going to a crowded place, and ask him to tell people 'Please call my daddy' and show them the number if he gets lost. He hasn't gotten lost yet though.

In my mind the advantages of a hardness is:

  • Peace of mind.
  • No risk of the child getting lost

The advantages of not using one are:

  • Incentive to learn independence
  • Empowers the child
  • Encourages you, as a parent to trust your child
  • Encourages the parent to teach your child
  • Makes it easier to trust them as they roam on their own
  • Lets the run faster and more than you can. (Our son has a LOT more energy than me)
  • Encourages physical activity since you are not limiting him (think walking on raised walls, jumping up and down, racing around in a park)
  • Less worry if you are in situation where you don't have the harness, since you don't rely on it.
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