In Defense of Using “A Leash” With My Toddler

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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 can be hit-or-miss with wanting to sit in his stroller, we brought “Ryan the Lion,” his “backpack” that has a tail-like strap on it that loops 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. I’m not sure if their remarks are getting the response they were hoping, but I will never apologize for taking caution 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 helps to 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, and 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 what will be a lifelong challenge for me. How do I keep my son safe, without smothering him? How do I give him the freedom 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, 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 still encouraging his growth. There will be a point when using Ryan the Lion is stifling to his development. We won’t still be using him when we’re back-to-school shopping for Middle School. It’s always going to 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 the safety of my son. And I will never apologize for that.

What safety precautions have you taken with your little ones?