Back on the Chain Gang: Should Kids Be "Leashed?’

by Samantha on August 28, 2011

We’ve all been there, right?
We’re out in public, with our kid (or kids) in tow, and suddenly he bolts for the road unexpectedly.

Or how about those times where we innocently took Little Janie to the department store, looked down for a moment at that incredibly cute sweater, then turned around and our sweet little girl was gone?

Yes, panic ensued. Yes, we did finally become reunited with our offspring, if not through the kindness of strangers, but through the bloodcurdling scream of our child’s name that resonated through the whole department store floor - as well as the floors above and below as well.
That split second and subsequent moments where we’re not able to account for our child are the most terrifying that a parent can experience. Perhaps it’s our primal biological connection to our progeny that makes it the most dreaded and horrifying experience when it actually happens. And when it has happened to you, I can assure you that you never want to go through it again.
The first scenario - the one where a child bolts unexpectedly - happened to me recently. Having twin boys, aged two, makes it a more likely occurrence, unfortunately. 

Image courtesy of
I had taken my kids to drop them off at daycare, and one of my boys broke free and ran into the middle of the road, in a split second. The other boy ran (of course) at lightening speed in the other direction. What was I to do?

I guess that primal directive took over and I screamed at the top of my lungs to Boy 1 to come back, while (almost) simultaneously screaming at a kindly woman who just happened to be walking by to “get him NOW,” in reference to Boy 2 who was now almost half a block away. Thankfully, there was no car coming and the very kind woman who I had bellowed at actually heeded my demand and roped in my kid. All’s well that ends well, right?

Well, not really.

Because as we all know, these occurrences, while random in nature, are far from atypical. They happen a lot. Perhaps too much. When you have little kids, toddlers in particular, they are almost regular events. Could this be the reason that many of us parents of the younger set are sprouting gray hairs more quickly than ever? But I digress.

If you are the parent of a small one, your nerves are frayed and there’s no way around it. Each foray into the outside world, if you will, makes you fraught with anxiety until the outing is completed and you’re back in your home with your kids in tow, safe and sound. And every time that your kid bolts, you wonder what you can do to assure that it doesn’t happen again, next time you venture out of the safety of your home.

Which brings me to the topic of today’s post: child restraints, also known as “leashes” or “harnesses.”

Okay, the mental images evoked by those words alone makes us all a little uncomfortable, don’t they? I mean, leashes, harnesses, restraints…last time I checked, those were terms that described objects that, for the most part, kept animals in line, right? Therein lies the problem.
Image courtesy of
While we may be all for keeping kids in line, disciplining them accordingly and perhaps being a bit of a disciplinarian at times, let’s face it - we don’t really want to equate our darling babies with dogs, horses and other common domestic creatures, do we? Our kids are precious, aren’t they? And being so, how could we then possibly reconcile spending thousands upon thousands heeding our sweet little angels’ every whims while at the same time reining them in - literally - while we’re paying for those very purchases?
The dichotomy between these two very disparate scenarios makes most of us very uncomfortable, myself included. And yet, I can completely understand the mindset of parents who do decide that their kids will be harnessed, reined, restrained, or whatever the correct terminology may be for the practice. For while they may be shunned, scorned and judged by other parents, they - unlike you or I - are certain where their children are at all times. Given this fact, which parents are the ones who should really be judged? As many of us have experienced, we’ve turned our heads for a second, and our kids were gone.
Image courtesy of
In all practicality, child harnesses are an obvious solution to a common problem. Young children run off with no warning, often becoming lost, or heaven forbid, into the path of oncoming traffic, our worst nightmares, as parents. What solutions do we have to circumvent this, at least until the little ones get past that stage where they want to explore their outside world at a second’s notice, throwing caution to the wind and causing anxiety and stress to their loved ones? That being said, I will say for the record that I don’t have a child harness or leash and am, frankly, uncomfortable enough with the concept that I will not likely be purchasing one (or two) anytime soon. That said, I remain conflicted, as when I see children “leashed” if you will, there is something about it that evokes a visceral reaction within me…and the reaction is not positive. The conflict that I feel, however,  comes from the fact that I completely understand why the parents have chosen this option, and perhaps, on some level, envy them for taking a stand and doing what they feel is the best solution for the very real problem of having kids who take off on a whim.

So forgive me. This is a longer post than usual and I’ve rambled a bit, partially as a way of working out my thoughts on this very controversial issue. Not meaning to, er, “unleash” a barrage of comments either pro or con, but I just had to put this issue out there.


What do you think about child “leashes,” “harnesses” or similar restraints? Are you for them or against them? Why or why not?

Of course any excuse to add a vaguely relative (or completely unrelated) video to a post and showcase artists that I like (like The Pretenders and Sam Cooke) is appreciated. So here you go:
Sam Cooke - Chain Gang
The Pretenders - Back on the Chain Gang

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

championm2000 August 28, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Although we don't own any leashes yet, I am totally opposed to them. Yes, I have mixed feelings, but I also think the practicality outweighs the negative connotations, especially when you have two toddlers in crowded places such as Disney, the state fair, a busy mall. For us, we just have stuck with having them in the stroller for now.


Samantha August 28, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I've done the same thing, Melissa - keeping them in strollers when in doubt. It's worked for the most part, though there have been a couple of "close calls." Thankfully this stage where the kids want to bolt won't last forever. I'm counting the days…


championm2000 August 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm

oops-that should read "I am NOT totally opposed to them"!


Samantha August 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm

No problem - understood! :)


carishepard August 28, 2011 at 3:53 pm

I'll admit it — I've used a child harness. I'll also admit to having had a child harness used on me when I was little (over 40+ years ago, so child harnesses aren't something new). One reason I like them is it allows the child some independence (which that age group craves) while maintaining the security/safety of not being able to wander off. I think based on what my Mom told me, she didn't start using them until she had my youngest brother (3 kids + 2 hands = one child free) and my Dad was stationed overseas (military). I didn't start using them until my oldest was finally walking and even then used it rarely until after I had my youngest (#3). Oh, and I didn't use it all the time just when I knew we'd be somewhere tempting for one or more of the boys to wander off.


Thank, Q August 28, 2011 at 10:23 pm

I'm not in favor of child harnesses at all. I just look at a child on a leash as an "easy way out." Again, it's just my opinion, but I just don't see the need to use a leash when I can hold their hand or teach them to not run from me. Easier said than done, I know, but I've seen too many people do it to believe otherwise. You do offer an interesting scenario with twins though.


Thank, Q August 28, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Oh, BTW, Sam Cooke is my favor singer! Excellent choice!


Crunchy Mommy (aka Cindy) August 29, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I am a faithful supporter of child harnesses. Imagine walking around with your friggin' arm up in the air all day long. It cannot be comfortable. I don't use them all the time, but if I'm in a crowded place, with 3 kids, it's not so much the easy way out, it's the safest way to NOT get my kids abducted, ran over, lost, etc. We've used them at Disney while waiting in line so that the kids don't have to be held the entire time and so they have a little bit of 'freedom' and get less cranky. We've done it in the mall, at aquariums (where it was WONDERFUL) and other amusement parks. I don't have twins, but my 2 oldest are 21 months apart and have been almost the same size since the youngest started walking. Without the backpack buddies (which is what we called them so the kids didn't feel like dogs) I honestly don't know what we would've done.


Crunchy Mommy (aka Cindy) August 29, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Oh, and when I had my mom with me, who is cognitively and physically disabled, a stroller was not an option when I was pushing a wheelchair or having my mom lean against me for support. The child safety harnesses were the only solution when I went anywhere there was a danger of kids running into a parking lot, crowded places, etc. And you know what? I actually had people stop me and tell me that I was a bad mother for it. My comeback was always that they should walk around with their arm up in the air all day, lol. The conceded that I had a point with that.


Samantha August 29, 2011 at 7:12 pm

@carishepard Hi Cari,
Funny about the harness being used 40+ years ago; i often wondered if parents using them were a direct result of our more hyper-vigilant, "helicopter parenting" society, which is what I thought, but am likely wrong. I can understand the need to have your kids in plain view and safe and we all gotta do what we all gotta do. As I noted in my post, I'm uncomfortable with it in all honesty, but totally understand why they would be used and heaven knows, could many times have used ones with my little rascals! Thanks for commenting.


Samantha August 29, 2011 at 7:17 pm

@Thank, Q Thanks for your comment. I think each situation with our children warrants an individualized approach; for some it might be sufficient to merely teach the kids to behave - and the kids adhere to these rules; to others, more "hands-on" approaches are necessary. Unfortunately kids are not all the same (if they were, we could easily predict their behaviours and appropriate remedies) so parents are forced to make what are sometimes difficult choices. I guess the bottom line is that as long as the kids are kept safe and out of harm's way, we've done our jobs as parents.


Samantha August 29, 2011 at 7:18 pm

@Thank, Q Gotta love Sam Cooke!!


Samantha August 29, 2011 at 7:21 pm

@Crunchy Mommy (aka Cindy)
Cindy, thanks so much for your perspective on this topic. Often people can't understand the reasons behind the decisions that are made and are quick to judge, which none of us should do. Having twins, I know what it's like trying to rein them in and it is often an exercise in patience and anxiety, not to mention futility at the worst of times. If you have been able to successfully keep your kids in line - literally and figuratively - then you've done better than many of us (embarrassingly says the woman whose kid ran into the middle of the road). Thanks for commenting.


Samantha August 29, 2011 at 7:22 pm

@Crunchy Mommy (aka Cindy)
I love it when people feel that they have the right to personally criticize someone's decision to their face without having any ounce of background, or not knowing all of the details of the situation. I surely hope that you gave them a piece of your mind…and otherwise!


Anonymous August 30, 2011 at 8:12 pm

I have never used one, but I can see that it would be of great assistance in some circumstances. I think that there might be a great business opportunity for an entrepreneurial mother. Perhaps someone could come up with a new politically correct, rebranded version of the harness. It could be symbiotically attached to the parent as well as the child, so it would be a kind of shared bondage. I think with a few tweaks, it could be the latest thing since the Baby Bjorn. Market it with a warm and fuzzy name like lovelock or something and society might take to the idea.


Samantha September 1, 2011 at 3:27 am

@Anonymous A very funny take on a sometimes not-so-funny topic! Thanks for giving me a laugh today :)


Sandy November 30, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Great post. I don't actually care if people use them or not. I tried to use the wrist version once and my kid promptly took it off and I didn't bother trying again. If it works for a parent - fantastic! If it doesn't - well that's fantastic too! I'm not into judging parents and their choices especially when it comes to protecting their children and who knows maybe that parent has physical limitations…


Samantha November 30, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Sandy - I completely agree. I wouldn't judge parents who choose to use these devices because we all have to make what we feel are the best choices for our kids. I haven't tried using them but have been tempted with my boys especially because they run in two different directions when we're out and about and it is stressful, to say the least! I guess the debate will continue…

Thanks for commenting!


Disneyland Goer April 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm

I am in the process of deciding whether or no I should get one for my 10 month old. I have a specific situation where I feel that a harness is warranted. The baby started walking at 9 months and is now running and exploring all over the place- the most independant little thing you ever did see! We go to Disneyland a lot with our annual passes and there is a tram that takes you from the parking lot to park. You need to fold up your stroller and then put it on the tram. So if I’m by myself with her I feel she needs to be secure with a harness so no one takes her or she doesn’t run off. I would probably use a harness for her in an airport or any place I would need both hands and arms. I would feel very bad if someone who was uncomfortable with the way I keep my child safe said anything to me or even gave me a less than approving look. My point is that judgment should be withheld - every situation is different and people have their own idea of nessesity. This blog has opened my eyes to a controversy of this type of product that I didn’t know was there. Thank you, this site and some comments has prepared me for some of the negativity that may await me.


Samantha April 3, 2012 at 2:36 am

People have to realize that everyone’s situation is different and that we all have to do what we believe is best for our child or children. After all, we do know better, don’t we? Yes, there may be negativity but again, it’s about what you think is going to be the best alternative for your child, and by that token, is no one else’s business. I admit that child harnesses make me uncomfortable, but at the same time I can totally understand them, especially being the parent of twins. You’re often stuck and if you’re alone with a child or two who won’t listen and who has a penchant to run off, I can see how this can be perceived as the right solution.

Steel yourself and do what you need to do. And remember that those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.


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