Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Benefits of using a Leash for a Toddler

 My daughter is 14 months old and has been walking independently for almost a month now. She's still unsteady of course, and even more so if she's wearing shoes, but she's now using walking as her primary means of locomotion instead of crawling in most circumstances.

Which means that she's old enough to be able to walk on a leash now.

Whereas many parents seem to get a toddler leash as a last resort, I thought through the controversy over leashes long before I conceived, and I decided the arguments against them didn't really hold up all that well against the benefits of using one. I remember in particular one time that I was walking my chocolate Labrador and thinking about leashes and the argument that leashing your child is treating them like a dog. And I mentally listed off the reasons why I put a leash on my dog - to keep her from disturbing or accidentally hurting other pedestrians, to keep her away from dangerous things like cars, to keep her from wandering away and getting lost… and realized that all of those apply to a toddler as well. And for that reason, when I saw a cute little backpack leash for sale in a local store, I bought it and added it to my growing collection of baby stuff I bought to cope with trying to conceive.

So, I've now taken her on two leash walks, and I'm planning more. One of my biggest surprises so far has been that, despite how controversial leashes seem to be online, no one I've met IRL seems remotely bothered by her leash. Maybe it's because I live in Canada and people are more polite here, or maybe it's because she's obviously way too young to be able to listen to commands and behave herself. Or maybe the anti-leash side is overrepresented online and it's actually just a small minority.

I've also noticed that leashes have other benefits besides the obvious "not running away or into traffic" one.

Firstly, fall mitigation. Now, as some people arguing against leashes have pointed out, a leash can cause a child to fall. Certainly I can't tug on the leash with my child like I do with my dog, because even a slight tug will make her topple over. Instead, if she's fighting to go a direction I don't want her going, I have to grab her hand to redirect her, or else just hold her back gently and wait.

But she'd be falling regardless, because she's a novice walker. And the leash helps reduce the severity of falls, because it doesn't reach to the ground. If she falls wearing the leash, she physically can't hit her head - the leash keeps her up. So, her falls with the leash are falls onto her knees or her butt, and those are much better ways to fall than faceplanting. And off-leash she does faceplant sometimes. She's getting better at falling safely, but she's still a very young, uncoordinated toddler with a big heavy head.

Reduced back pain. My baby is tiny. She's average height for a 14 month old, which means she comes up to just below my knee. Meanwhile, when I'm standing comfortably, my hand reaches to about my mid-thigh. If I were to stand with my back straight and she was reaching up for me, I would not be able to hold her hand. I need to bend over a bit to hold her hand as she's walking, and that's hard on my lower back. Meanwhile, the leash extends my reach so I can comfortably stand upright and still be preventing her from wandering off.

Hands free. Since the leash attaches to a backpack, I don't need to restrict her hand movement. Novice walkers often use their hands to help with balance - she tends to hold them up about shoulder height a lot. She also enjoys grabbing things, like pinecones, and likes to walk around holding something in each hand. And since she's not having to reach up to hold my hand, she can squat down and grab the pinecone, too!

Increased freedom. Let's face it. There's no way I'd walk along a busy road with a 14 month old who is just a slip of the hand away from running off. If she wasn't on a leash, I'd either be carrying her or put her in her stroller. But with the leash, I know that even if I have a momentary lapse in attention, she can't go very far from me. And when she's walking on a leash, she's up close and personal with the world, and she's able to show me where she wants to go. Neither of those are true in her stroller. When I was baby-wearing her, she was able to get up close and personal with the world, but only on my terms, not her own. And she's getting too heavy for me to baby-wear, plus it's really hot out right now.

Overall, I feel positively about our experience with leashed walks so far, and plan to continue using the leash at least until she's able and willing to come when I call her consistently. She has recently discovered that being chased by an exasperated adult is really funny, so that'll take a while.


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