Let your children off the leash!


If you have to put her on a leash, at least use it to keep her off the cycling lane!

This is what I saw the other day on my way home from the supermarket. Yeah, look closer. And don’t let her atrocious boots distract you from the even more heinous lapse of having her child on a leash!

The appalling bit is, here in the UK, I see this all the time! When I last visited Germany, I specifically paid attention to how often I would see parents with their kids on a lead. Well, yes, there is the odd occurrence, but it doesn’t even remotely compare to how frequently the average island monkey does it.

I was curious whether I would be able to unearth more facts to back up my observations. So I typed into Amazon.co.uk ‘harness and reins’ and was ‘rewarded’ with a horrifying number of 95 different products. Type the German equivalent search term into Amazon.de, you get 30 results! What does that tell you? That’s right, we Germans don’t care about our kids. We want to see them in pain and unsafe.

Sure, I could, with a lot of imagination, conceive of situations where a rein might possibly be useful. Like when you are at the airport, trying to check in your bag and therefore waiting in the slowest ever queue, and your little monster is convinced that running around and challenging the definition of ‘authorised personnel’ is way more fun than standing in line with Mommy. Or when you are at a busy supermarket and the beckoning of the muffin aisle is so much more enticing for your offspring than your pleading to stay with you.

But in the pictured situation? Just walking down the road, hardly any other people around, and not even any hands occupied by lugging grocery bags/pushing pushchairs/holding siblings in check? To what purpose does this little girl have to walk on a leash? Is she prone to run away? Fall over? Bump into other pedestrians? Pass on the germs from her grubby hands to her moms’ clinically clean ones? I’ll never know.

My other ‘favourite’ observation of this kind happened at the park and I didn’t dare take a photograph lest the lens burst with indignation. Or maybe I just didn’t have my camera on me that day. In any case you will just have to take my word for it: it was disgraceful!

Another lady, another little girl on a leash. But this time not next to a road with all its terrible dangers but – you might want to sit down or hold onto something – on a PLAYGROUND! The little one, probably about 2, tried to use the slide but that would have meant that said lady would have had to get up onto that thing as well, which of course she didn’t.

OK, in this case it was clearly not the little girl’s mother, but her grandmother, on the reigning end of the rein. And she was probably just uncertain how best to rein in a dinky, shy 2-year-old other than with a, well, rein. Mind you, here in the UK, the average mother is probably about 19 years old, so this granny was not that much older than myself and would have been able to keep up with her granddaughter. But what if, god forbid, the girl would have fallen over and possibly ended up with a bruise (cue shocked outcry, preferably with your hands on your cheeks)? Mommy might have gotten so angry that gran would have been forbidden to ever again take her granddaughter to the playground. Ever!

I mean, children running around freely on a playground? Without the safety of a Safety 1st Safety Harness that “Comes complete with walking rein to give your child the freedom to walk around safely”?! Whatever next?!

Eventually the girl had to climb down the stairs again because granny just wouldn’t let go of the bloody reins! I would have laughed at the ridiculousness of the scene if it wouldn’t have been so sad!

Again, I confess that I have been in situations where I wished I had one of these things to keep my little monster in check. However, both times I made the conscious decision not to buy one. I feel that putting a child on a leash lacks the dignity and respect I wish to concede to any person, regardless of their age.

monkey harness

Hey, you've got a monkey on your back. Erm... Never mind, my bad, it's just a DOG LEASH!

Oh, and making them pink for girls, camouflage them as little backpacks or use stuffed animals for the extra cuteness factor doesn’t change the fact that your child would be happier without it!

By the way, if you were wondering whether there is anything that could take the concept of leashes for children over the top, yes, there is! The newest must-have is apparently a retractable rein. Yeah, you’re reading correctly, just like the ones for doggies!

Newsflash, people: Your little one is not a dog that needs reining in! So, you claim it’s all about your child’s safety? Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Because in this case you would be saying that all the parents that don’t use them don’t give a rat’s arse about their kids’ wellbeing. Not the case! To be honest, to me it just looks like you are trying to dodge one of your responsibilities as a parent.

Granted, I am by no definition an expert in this field, but common sense sounds pretty convincing to me when it argues that holding your child’s hand, talking to him, giving him reasons why he can’t do certain things, explaining situations and dangers to him and – please don’t stab me for this one – letting him actually run around as long as you can keep an eye on him seems to be a much more sensible way of raising him to become an independent, responsible, self-reliant person who can confidently assess risks and judge situations.

Also, you don’t do your little one a favour by shielding her from each and every possible danger, imagined or real. I read the other day that empowerment is the freedom to fail. So, please, let your child make their own experiences. Yes, falling down does hurt, but it also teaches them valuable lessons that will reduce the likelihood of them falling again the next time.

And if you absolutely have to use a rein in certain, particularly dangerous situations, please make sure you restrict its use to these instances. And please, don’t forget that you have your child on a leash, it could look funny…

42 thoughts on “Let your children off the leash!

  1. Hmmm. Interesting and perplexing, indeed. I’d forgotten all about child leashes. But I do remember being exposed to them as a kid. Now I don’t remember ever being on the end of one, but I saw them…I don’t even remember the context, but I remember asking my own mother why a person would do that. I believe she pointed out that if you live in a crowded and nutty city like New York or London (as she did at different times of her life) a leash made perfect sense to make sure you didn’t lose your kid in the crowd. Her explanation sort of made sense to me.

    Since I never had any rug rats of my own and I’ve never lived in a jam-packed city, I really hadn’t given the subject much thought since that long ago conversation. The scenarious you describe…what in the heck? Makes no sense at all. Out here in rural western US, we feel lucky when people actually put leashes on their dogs. And then there are the long leashes (longe lines) for training and excercising horses…but kid leashes? I don’t think so.

    • Well, maybe it seems so unnatural to me because these things weren’t around when I grew up. Presumably because there were no ‘predators’ around in East Germany…
      Thanks for the support, Linda, this topic really gets to me. Only yesterday, I was very close to smacking the parents of a 3-year-old boy. At the zoo! Both parents! No bags/prams or anything else to take care of! Yet the kiddo leashed. Aaaarrrgghh! I let the little monster demonstratively run all around them. My little revenge hahaha.

  2. I would leash my child in certain settings because it would give him the freedom to run without the fear of getting too far away. We live in a neighborhood with steep hills, and in the summer, it’s hard to hold his sweaty little hand to keep him from falling. Something I had never, ever thought of when I was anti-leash. A harness would allow me to catch him safely before he did a face-plant.

    But there is a limit for us. If we’re in a safe place, Squish gets to run unfettered. I have taught him to return to me and touch my fingertip with his when I say “Touch!” Yes, he is target-trained like a red panda at the zoo. I work in a zoo. What can you expect from me?

    • Target training, sweet! One way of doing it 😉
      As I said, if there are specific reasons, by all means. What I object to is habitual leashing so that the parents can chat on the phone undisturbed and don’t have to talk to their children anymore.
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I am always pleased to welcome readers from very far away to my blog.

      • Oooohhhh! Cell phones! UGH! Such a distraction, and one reason I refuse to own one.

        I want my critter to run free and exhaust himself so he’s ready for night-night later.

        The image of the kid leashed by her grandparent brings up a lot of questions. I’m sad for them both.

      • So am I, Cliche. But also strangely fascinated. Whenever I see a leashed kid I can’t help but stare. It’s like a car crash. Just to see the behavioural differences between them and my little blighter…

    • Exactly my thinking, Hamid! I thought I couldn’t trust my eyes when I first saw this here. The sheer number of occurrences has since caused me to ponder the issue extensively – and, despite all the pros, I still think it’s weird!
      Thank you for your support, I like positive comments 😉

  3. There is absolutely no excuse to have your kid on a leash.

    There are like a zillion methods of upbringing, that can help develop a trusting relationship between parent and child. You cannot substitute trust with a leash!

    • It’s a quick fix, and like any mom I can relate to situations in which you’re so exhausted, stressed, busy or otherwise occupied that you’d rather take the easy way out. It takes effort to raise a child (let alone more than one) but most of us knew that before.
      So if it’s like the absolute emergency solution, who would judge? In the long run though I totally agree with you. Nothing says ‘I love you and care for you’ louder than taking your child by the hand and taking the time to talk to him.
      Thank you for reading and commenting, efthemes, I really appreciate your contribution.

  4. Sandra, one of my earliest memories is of being in a walking harness (it certainly wasn’t called a ‘leash’ in those days!) and tugging at it to walk forward at my own pace. My sister was put in one many years before I was born too. It did us no harm whatsoever, and probably prevented us from running off into the road. My memory is from the early 1950’s and my sister would have worn her harness a decade before, so it’s nothing new.

    • I suppose, calling it a leash is just an expression of my dismay. I realise they have been around and they have their uses, too.
      I was just very surprised to see them in this abundance here in the UK compared to Germany, and I was wondering how this difference comes about. What I do object to though is the indiscriminate use in places that by no standard warrant the use of a harness. Places that are designed for children to run around and tire themselves out, such as a zoo or a playground.
      Thank you for stopping by and for your comment, Val.

      • Oh, I agree with you, Sandra – children don’t need to be overprotected to that extent – on streets, yes, at a zoo or in a playground absolutely not. By the way, something else that came to my mind was that when walking harnesses first came into existence – or were being used extensively – it was probably at around the same time that ordinary people began to be able to afford to buy cars, so the roads them must have ‘suddenly’ become dangerous!

      • Good point, Val. Gives fodder to the theory that Brits are shoddy drivers. Why else would the use of harnesses be so much more common here on the island? 😉

    • Thanks for the interesting historic information. Most notably, the article states that the use of harnesses in England is more common than for instance in the US. As a possible reason is mentioned that “The English seem especially concerned with security”.
      Talking of health and safety… 😉
      It would be really interesting to see studies about the effectiveness of such harnesses, i.e. are kids in the UK less likely to have a traffic accident/get lost/get snatched by an evil person etc. I realise this will be very difficult, seeing that no two situations are alike, let alone in different countries.

  5. The Brits more concerned with safety than the Americans? Impossible. No one finds more to fret over than the general American public. We have hand sanitizer containers in little carriers (like a cell phone case on the belt) We arm our 1st graders with a cell phone so they can call their parents if there is “trouble.” We drink bottled water that’s as expensive as gasoline and not necessarily any safer or more pure than tap water, we fence off everything, we have gated communities fencing out everyone, we have liability laws, helmet laws, laws, laws, laws, all designed to take the fun out of life. American’s are the world’s fraidy cats, in my opinion. And until recently, we’ve had less to fear than most other parts of the world. What we have to fear now is our own ignorance and poor civil behavior in the global community.
    …oh…sorry to rant on your site, Sandra.

    • Hahaha, yeah, when you look at it from your angle, I suppose Americans are the world leaders… in paranoid behaviour. And no worries about the ranting, this is a blog specifically designed for rants, so go right ahead and be my guest ranter, Linda 😉

    • Hahaha, I might just have to borrow the idea when I start my nationwide ad campaign against kid leashing. Nothing gets people’s blood pressure going like a bit of ridicule. Will have to think of a better disclaimer, though, to cover my butt legally. ‘I kid’ might not cut it.
      Thanks for the comment, Professor Boggleton, made for a nice start to my day.

  6. Not all parents have it easy in handling their kids.

    Toddlers can be very trying because that’s the age where they experiment everything from scraped knees to climbing tree from what will happen if I throw this plate on to the floor to how much can Mommy take it before she snaps.

    When you have an active child who squirms and writhes when you hold their hands, you would know how a simple thing as “simply hold their hands” is not so simple after all. You wouldn’t want to clamp on their wrist with your adult strength lest you hurt the child but you can’t hold it like you’re holding a flimsy, lifeless garden hose.

    It is easy to blame parents who choose to use the leash as lazy parents, dodging responsibilities, excuse to enjoy their stroll without letting their kids explore on their own. But it’s also easy to underestimate how fast and quick a toddler can be the moment you let go of their hands. With no sense of danger, they know not what they will run into.

    It looks demoralizing when you have a kid on a leash. But I would rather be ridiculed by others who do not have a toddler rather than risk my toddler running into dangers or swept off by strangers.

    • Thank you for your comment, Jaja, and linking from your post to my blog.
      As I said, I have a toddler myself and he is not of the shy or careful sort. He is lively, active, fearless and in the middle of his terrible twos. So yes, I have had to raise my voice in public (and frankly, if you don’t care whether people judge you when having your child on a leash, why would you care what they think when you’re loud?). It does take more time to do the shopping with than without him because I constantly have to check on him, tell him to leave the cheese in the shelf and urge him to stay with me. He has bumped into other pedestrians and fallen more often than I care to remember. He runs into walls and ends up with bruises, and he writhes and wriggles when I hold his hand. So I’ve been there, trust me, but I find all these situations more natural thanputting a leash on him. Yes, I have yet to deal with a sibling simultaneously, and yes, maybe I got lucky when you compare my little monster with other children. In my experience though it is always the smarter move to bend down to the squirming monster and talk to him at eye level about the situational necessities and promise him that he can run around a little later, rather than just using my superior adult strength to pull him my way – by his hand or otherwise.
      In any case, I admit that some situations warrant the consideration of a harness. BUT I don’t think that the leash has to come on as soon as a child is taken outside. There are way less perverts lurking around than we are made believe by the media.

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  8. Oh, how I understand how hard it is to keep your hands firm on your toddler! Hahahaha.

    But yeah, I agree with you on talking to them at their level. Because toddlers wants to be treated like an adult while being babied too! As I said in my post, I respect the views on the baby harness (need to stop calling them leash…Hehe) from the people who has kids because only they would know what it takes to control a toddler.

    For me and my husband, we use it only when it’s necessary, like in a crowded mall. If we take him out to the park, we don’t use the harness at all because otherwise why bother bringing him to a park, right?

    I like your views on the harness, that’s why I link it to my post! 🙂

  9. That video was terrible. The leash idea, not so much. I have two of them and I have three little boys. No, I don’t use it in the street. Yes, I have used it in the airport. There is a time and place for everything. I strap my kids in the stroller, but if for some reason I am alone with all three in a really busy place, no stroller, and I can easily lose them, I will use it.

    I have had glares while using them and I find that slightly judging. I try to do what is best for me and for my family. Losing my children is not an option and the heartache of one wandering off is far worse than the feeling of being “leashed” like a dog. When I put them on they just have fun and play around and they think it is exciting. They never look like they are degraded and being dragged around.

    I assume there are always people who are too lazy to be a mom and watch their kids and just sit on their butt while playing Angry Birds and just hook their kids on a leash and tie them to a bench. But for us normal mothers who are just looking out for our children’s well-being, I think it is a very helpful option.

    • The way you describe it, you are getting it right. I don’t think I would glare if I saw a mom or dad with 2 or even 3 of the little runts in harnesses in a busy mall. As you say, there is a time and place for everything.
      Thank you for your comment, Logo, I apreciate your contribution.

  10. My mum used to have a Harness for me and my brother when we were little, I used to throw tantrums in the shopping centre and refuse to move so I got dragged by them.

    They were not used all of the time, just in situations such as shopping in a busy shopping centre or walking down the street so I didn’t run onto the road. I understand using them and I don’t think calling them a ‘leash’ is very fair. You may not agree with them but doesn’t mean others feel the same way.

    Every country has a different way of doing things and it just so happen us Brits use Harnesses to help keep kids safe. What would you say if your toddler ran off in a crowd and you couldn’t find them? They could have been kidnapped and what is an easier way to stop that from happening than having them wear a harness

    • You see, what I just don’t get is why people in other countries manage to keep their kids safe without these things, but here they don’t. The other day I was in Germany and happened upon a kindergarten group of 4-year-olds crossing the road. I counted them, 11 kids with 2 teachers. Absolutely no problem, the children were walking in pairs, holding hands, and no-one was running away or doing other stupidities. Fast forward to a week later here in our park, 2 kindergarten teachers with 4 kids, all 4 in harnesses and, another typically British thing, high-visibility vests. Nope, still not getting it. Are British children that unruly? Or do you have more pedophiles here than in other countries? I shouldn’t think so.
      Well, at least the ladies took the lines off when they had reached the playground so that the kiddies could run around there.
      Anyway, thank you for your perspective, Vic, and the reminder to be nice 😉

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  13. First, let me start by saying that my child is no monster. She’s my precious angel and I’m very glad to have her in my life so I want to keep her safe from the real monsters out there. So I opt to use a harness as a further safeguard when we’re in public. By no means does this mean that my eyes aren’t also trained on her. I resent the suggestion that mothers who use a harness are not attentive. The women that I know that use them still interact with their children even though they have the harness on (in fact when she’s tired of exploring, I pick her up and carry her around, and once she’s ready to get back on her own two feet, I put her down and she roams around until she’s ready for me to pick her up again). Just because I’m not holding my daughter’s hand, calling after her in public to be careful, or chasing her to keep her from falling doesn’t mean that I’m a lazy parent. And no I’m not tied to a cell phone and ignoring her when we’re in public either (in fact I personally no longer even use a cell phone because I find them to be 99% unnecessary). My point is that one’s parenting style in public tends to reflect parenting habits at home. So if your inattentive at home, harness or not, you’ll act similarly in public.

    • Hi Frankie, believe it or not but my little monster (as in Monster Inc., he’s a really cute and cuddly one) means the world to me too and I don’t exactly fancy anything bad happening to him.

      However, I am convinced that being overprotective (which is my translation of “further safeguard”) can neither eliminate any and every risk to a child’s safety nor is it even desirable to attempt. As I said, I’d rather teach my kid early on to use his own judgement and allow him to learn his own lessons (if necessary by falling) than still having to walk him to school at 14 because I don’t trust him to be able to cross the road on his own.

      How can your daughter “roam around” and “explore” in a 1 metre radius around you?

      I do agree that harnesses are used for different reasons, and I did not mean to suggest that every child wearing one has lazy parents. I just think that the – real or imagined – dangers of the world out there shouldn’t be the reason why a child has to be leashed every time you leave the house with them.

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Frankie, I appreciate the dialogue.

  14. We lived in Germany (Mönchengladbach and Dülmen) and both of our Kids were on Reigns (not leashes). We were often asked where they could be bought as they were really useful. Just before we left (2010) we noticed that more German shops were selling them. My little boy is now 6 and I threatened him with putting him back in them the other week.


    (I often use the pseudonym Insel Affen, but suspect I can’t here). 🙂

    • Hi Chris, thank you for your contribution. Of course it is your decision how you raise your kids but doesn’t the fact that you use the rein as a threat make you think?

      Yes, they are really useful, especially when someone wants the easy way out. Again, I don’t say this is always the case, but I am sure more often than not a situation would be manageble without a rein.

      Unfortunately the trend towards using them to “keep the children safe” is noticeable in all countries where parents have too much money to ignore the “safety needs” that society and adverts try to push on us.

      • Yes it is my decision on how I raise my kids, but after one ran off in the middle of Kaufhof Galleria when we couldn’t speak much German, it was a little concerning. I read more of the blog and it seems you are a bit anti reins but they have their uses and shouldn’t be relied on at all times. It shouldn’t be used as a leash for your kids, but as a safety precaution, (I know you’ll disagree) but how often have you had a close shave when you just let them out of your sight for a second? Yes, lets kids run around and explore, but….there comes a point. Especially when you ask them to come back, bring them back, (10th time) and explain not to run off, chase pigeons etc, then bring them back (20th time) and do all the other things like time outs etc before you explode in the high street.
        Maybe I’m just being a bit prickly of having my parenting skills questioned?

      • No Chris, not at all, I am sure you are a great parent. I do understand that sometimes safety measures are a good thing, and I also acknowledge that everyone has their own definition of when these are warranted.

        The point I was trying to make in the post was that there are parents (and in my experience more here in the UK than back home in Germany) who use reins indiscriminately, even in places that are designed for kids to run around and have fun. Plus, once a rein is bought it can be very tempting to use it more often than strictly necessary.

        As I said, I have been in situations when I wished I had one but made the conscious decision not to buy one. But that’s my way. Please don’t feel attacked because I speak my mind on my blog. Maybe I am lacking a bit of the fabled British politeness 😉

  15. Ah understood now. Yes it’s ridculous to use them in a playground etc, let the kids run around, maybe even join in with them too! (I can hear the Chavs tutting now!)
    Sorry it took a while to respond, but I’ve been on holiday in Bavaria.

  16. I have a baby, only one and i will buy this product soon and will use it even if i am just walking in the street. Sad to see this article, written but this judgemental person. Let parents do what they want as long as they are not abusing their children in any way. After my pregnancy i was diagnosed with venous pelvic congestion, sciatica, lower back problems and over active thyroid. This means that appart from getting tired from just being a mum, i deal with pain every single day and fatigue. But this will not stop me from taking my son for a walk and let him explore outside. This product will let me walk him without bending to hold his hand or running when he happily tries to scape from me. And yes even ifi just take him to walk, without any bags on me, i will use it.
    Mind your business and do not criticise and try to make people feel bad when you dont even know whats going on in their lives.

    • Hi Elizabeth, it was certainly not my intention to make you feel bad. As I pointed out various times before, there are reasons for using child harnesses and every parent has to make the decision themselves. I was, however, commenting on the fact that I see this product way more often in England than, say, in Germany and I was wondering about the reasons. I think I am entitled to do that in my own blog, don’t you agree? Best wishes for you and your baby and I hope you will get better soon.

  17. Nothing wrong with the lead used in the photo. The child is between the mum and a main road. If the girl suddenly decided to dash out into the street -> potential pancake. While I agree with you that use of reigns in other situations is a bit OTT, this one isn’t. The mum should, ideally, have her on the other side, and holding her hand. With my 20-month-year-old, I have to stoop sideways to do this and it gives me backache. I wish I could use a lead but my (German) wife is opposed to it! It would save me a lot of worry. 🙂

    • Hi Philip, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think you are the only one who picked up on the potential road hazard in this photo. However, if you walk home from the shops, and along a roundabout 500 metre stretch of pavement only a section of about 50 metres looks like this with the rest having a fence as separation between the road and the pavement (which, incidentally, is the case in this place), would you leash your kid? Granted, you can’t be expected to clip the line on and off all the time but I personally would be inclined to stoop for the 50 unsafe metres. You are free to make your own decisions though, or as free as your wife lets you be 😉

      In any case I find it interesting how the divide between harness and no harness seems to run along the border between Germany and England. Thank you again for reading and commenting and good luck with your little whirlwind.

      • Hi, Sandra, thanks for your long reply and kind comments! 🙂 In the scenario you depict, no I wouldn’t use reins. But my kid would be on the other side of me.

        When my wife goes shopping, our daughter has to be strapped into a buggy, because my wife can’t carry bags of shopping and stop her running off at the same time. So reins would help, by allowing our kid to walk (which she much prefers).

        Additionally, as much as an adult might have to stoop, the kid has to stretch their arm up too, which may well be uncomfortable for them after a while. Reins would allow them to hold other things, as well as provide a degree of safety when the child trips.

        But it’s a moot point: my daughter hates the reins and refuses to be strapped into them! Yes, her passport is German, not English! 😉

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