In Defense of Using “A Leash” With My Toddler


toddler leashI recently took my almost 2-year-old son to our town’s street fair. Since my husband was at work, and my son could be hit-or-miss with wanting to sit in his stroller, we brought “Ryan the Lion,” his “backpack” with a tail-like strap that looped onto my wrist.

I still insist that we hold hands while outside, but 2-year-olds have minds and wills of their own. At one point, he was running ahead of me, and I was trying to navigate the crowds and get next to him to grab his hand.

We passed a couple with their dog, and as we passed them, I could hear the woman say, “He’s on a leash, just like our baby.”

Seeing as I still was trying to grab my son, I didn’t have the opportunity to snap a retort at her (starting with “dogs aren’t babies,” but that’s another matter entirely). But this was the second time someone made a “leash” comment about me, but not to me, in the previous weeks.

I feel absolutely zero shame for using a toddler leash. I’m unsure if their remarks are getting the response they were hoping for, but I will never apologize for being cautious with my son’s safety.

My son is an amazing, smart kid. And boy, is he strong. And fast. He sometimes would rather collapse onto the sidewalk in protest than hold my hand. I need to allow him to stretch his legs and explore his surroundings in a way that still prioritizes his well-being and help teach him boundaries through actions, as words haven’t made an impact yet.

When he started pulling away from our outstretched hands and bucking his body to avoid getting strapped into his stroller, my husband and I decided that the backpack-style harnesses would be a good alternative option to present him with.

I pulled up a search online, showed my son the different styles, and let him pick the animal he wanted the most. When the package showed up at our door, I spoke in very excited tones about the cool lion backpack that showed up. He loves it. He asks to wear it inside sometimes. We don’t have to fight over him wearing it outside. This is not a torture device in my son’s eyes. And so long as it’s the happy medium between his comfort and safety, we will use it while (trying) to hold his hand.

This is just the start of a lifelong challenge for me. How do I keep my son safe without smothering him? How do I allow him to explore and interact in the world without leaving him open to harm?

Holding hands outside turns to staying on the sidewalk, looking both ways, and being attentive to street signs. And before I know it, he’ll want the freedom to walk to the store or a friend’s house by himself.

My obligation as his parent is to protect him while encouraging his growth.

There will be a point when using Ryan the Lion is stifling his development. We won’t still use him when we’re back-to-school shopping for middle school. It will always be a challenge to determine when we need to stay in the shallow end and when it’s time to dive into the deep end.

And in all new situations, I will always first prioritize my son’s safety. And I will never apologize for that.

What safety precautions have you taken with your little ones?


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