Talk to a parent who uses a child leash and you’ll hear that they’re determined to keep their kids safe. You’ll hear about their fear that their son or daughter might run off or step into a busy street. Just a few seconds of inattention, they say, can lead to every parent’s worst nightmare: not knowing where their precious child has gone.
But plenty of leash-loving parents have gotten flack from bystanders or condemnation on social media for using accessories associated with dogs more often than with kids.
What are the pros and cons of using a leash with your child?
There have not been many reports of injuries caused by child leashes. They’re not a new idea, either. “Leading reins” have been used for kids for at least a century. While scientific research on the use of leashes is not available, and Consumer Reports has no publications on the subject, we would expect to see data on injuries if the devices were directly dangerous.
Leashes allow kids to have their hands free when walking.
A leash can provide a safety back-up for busy city streets, even for hand-holding parents.
A leash can help a parent keep track of twins or young siblings who outnumber the parent.
The parents of special needs children may feel that their blind or autistic child needs extra security.
Toddlers who are too heavy for parents to carry in backpacks can be handled with a leash.
A highly active child may climb out of a stroller and fall, or be hard for a parent to control when they’re holding hands. Leashes provide greater control over an active child than alternatives.
There’s not enough data on child leashes to say that they’re safe in use. Pediatricians worry that a cord could strangle a child, as cords from blinds have done. Falls are also a concern. Benjamin Hoffman, M.D., F.A.A.P., chair of the injury prevention council at the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends not using leashes for this reason.
If a child runs off and a parent reacts by jerking on the leash, the child could be injured.
Another concern is that being on a leash, something associated with dogs, could be humiliating for children. Even parents who love leashes admit that they get negative reactions from other people. Children may be aware of the negative responses without understanding the reason.
Reliance on a leash could keep parents from teaching children safe behavior.
Use of leashes can give parents an unrealistic feeling of safety and limit their awareness of their children or their environment.
Leashes can also be misused. Stories of parents using a leash to drag a child along or to attach a child to an object make it clear that leashes can be used irresponsibly.
Leashes can limit communication between parents and kids. Holding hands and walking together encourages conversation and participation.
Things to think about
Choose a safety harness if you want to use a child leash. The kind of leash that attaches to a child’s wrist is more likely to lead to injury if a child runs or falls. Safety harnesses distribute any strain across the child’s torso.
Think of a child leash as a back up, rather than a device that allows you to skip training your child about outdoor safety. Children should still learn to hold hands, to wait for a parent to come with them, to look both ways before crossing a street, and all the other lessons kids need when they’re away from home.
If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask your pediatrician.
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