Ask L'Oreal: Is it ever OK to put my kid on a leash?

 A young child, smiling at the camera, wears a harness and leash. A parent’s hand holds the other end of the leash.

Some parents rely on leashes or harnesses to keep their kids safe and close by. Here’s what to consider. (Getty Images)

Is it ever OK to put your kid on a leash? What if you’re traveling, or have a toddler who is prone to bolt off?

What L'Oreal says: Having attended Catholic school my entire academic career, I became quite familiar with the Biblical saying “Judge not lest ye be judged.” However, it wasn’t until I became a mom that I took this phrase to heart. While I personally don’t use a leash for my daughter and I don’t plan to, I can understand why some parents choose to, especially now that I’m in my #ToddlerMom era. Have you ever chased after a 2-year-old who just did something they weren’t supposed to do? Those tiny humans are fast!

Listen, if you’re like most parents, I’m sure you had a well-intentioned list of things you would and would not do before actually becoming a parent. And it’s OK if you happen to change your mind somewhere along the way. In case you haven’t caught on yet, this column is a judgment-free zone, which I know is rare nowadays when it comes to parenting, so you’re welcome.

And even though I’m not judging your leash-using ways, this is America and I can guarantee there are plenty of people who will. What I do want, however, is for you to be able to make safe and informed decisions, which is where the experts come in. Now, keep in mind that while there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to leash wearing (or parenting in general), there are some general guidelines to keep in mind.

“As a pediatrician, I have not generally advocated for the use of the leash with my patients,” says Dr. Anisha Abraham, chief of the division of adolescent and young adult medicine at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. “However, I would stress that this is a very individual decision and may be applicable in certain situations.”

Some reasons a family may need or want to use a leash include safety concerns, such as with a young child who is prone to running away in crowded public spaces; instances where a stroller or carrier isn’t an option; and with a child who has special needs. In any case, it’s important that the leash isn’t used as the sole safety measure, but rather as a supplement for hand-holding and teaching the child about the importance of staying close to their caregiver.

L’Oreal Thompson Payton looks off to the side and smiles.
L’Oreal Thompson Payton has advice to give. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Chuck Olu-Alabi)

“It is important for a parent to weigh the pros/cons of using a child leash,” says Chelsea Bodie, co-founder and psychologist at MamaPsychologists. “Are there other alternatives that may work? What type of leash/harness works for you?”

While there isn’t clear data regarding the number of injuries associated with leashes, Abraham encourages caregivers to consider choosing a harness or backpack style rather than the ones that attach to the wrist, as the latter may require more cooperation. She also advises against pulling or tugging when using a wrist leash or tether, as that could result in serious injury.

“Remember, using a leash or tether with a younger child should be a teaching method to help them stay by their caregiver,” says Abraham. “It should be done in a loving and supportive way. As soon as a child learns to walk alongside their caregiver, the use of a leash should be decreased or stopped.”

Before purchasing or using a leash, Abraham suggests following manufacturer instructions and ensuring the right size and fit in addition to checking U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission updates for any recalls and reviews.

There’s also the mental health aspect to consider. Because leashes carry with them a certain stigma in our society, it’s possible your child may pick up on that and feel humiliated or even angry about wearing one.

“It’s important to pay attention to how your child emotionally feels about the leash. Do they ask questions about it? Do they voice concerns? Are they embarrassed or ashamed?” says Bodie. “It’s important to have conversations with your child about safety. Explain why the leash is being used and what environment it may be used for.”

When your child takes off running in the opposite direction of where you’re trying to go, it’s a part of their natural curiosity and development. But it also can be frustrating, which is why it’s important for you to acknowledge and honor your feelings when those moments arise.

“If parents/caregivers are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, an important reminder is for them to take a few moments for rest, breathing and relaxation,” says Abraham. “Also, [they should] be sure to reach out for support from friends and families or health providers for their kids if they need it.”

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