Friday, August 17, 2012


My children come from a long line of runners. And by runners, I don't mean sporty-race runners (although we do that too). I mean toddler runners. Running from mum runners. And we're quick ones, at that.

Here is a delightful photo of my aunt as a child. Note the industrial strength leather harness. From my experience with dogs, I assume it's because she managed to chew through her previous cloth lead.

I was given a harness for Bug the other day. I welcomed it - the giver loves my girls as much as I do, and would be equally pained to see them run into danger. But the gift made me think. Why have I never had a harness for my girls before?

I can see the positives. Knowing your child is safe and attached in an airport or near a busy road would be very reassuring. Let alone when you are trying to concentrate on something in public, and then you look up to find your children have wandered away! But by the same token I have seen a mother haul on a harness like it was attached to a recalcitrant dog, pulling her small son around the supermarket while he stumbled along behind her, crying.

I am the woman who refused to buy a GPS until I could map-to-ground perfectly, and who didn't want a dishwasher. I am wary of things that seem too easy, and I fear that if I used a harness I would fall into bad habits.

In my limited experience, taking the "easy" road with child training usually ends up being harder in the long run. I would prefer to take the time to teach my girls the correct behavior the first time, and then reap the rewards afterwards. It seems easier than putting off the training until later, when they are already set in their ways. Besides, the smaller they are, the easier I can catch them and scoop them up while they are still learning!

I also come at this from the relative luxury of having just two intelligent, healthy children. I understand that it would be markedly different if the child had a physical or mental impairment, or if there were multiple small children in a family.

Once Bug had learnt to walk, she immediately wanted to run. And she wanted to run unencumbered by my hand. Usually in a busy car park. I took the time (and it did take time) to teach her that she either held my hand when I asked, or she was carried. No arguments, no debating or crying, no other options. If she wanted to walk, then the default was holding hands. And if she wanted to run? She had to ask. No pulling away, no darting off. So now she says "Mama? Run mummy? No hand?" And it's wonderful. I let her loose as often as I can, but I like knowing she will be safe with me - and importantly any one else she walks with - just holding hands. So it's lucky our new harness is also a handy backpack, disguised as a very cute puppy. It's still getting plenty of use and love!

On a related note, I have also trained my girls to keep both their hands on the car when they are in the car park. It keeps them safe, but it's also funny to see them lined up like little hoodlums in a police raid. Hey, I get my kicks where I can.

So, gentle reader, did you harness your children? Will you harness? Were you harnessed?
Or, like me, do you prefer not to?


  1. We were given a leash (it was definitely not a harness, it was a leash to be looped on the wrist of the child) when Boyo was born. We never took it out of the package. We were then given a few more by different people. Never used them either. I'd rather teach my children to obey than drag them around. Though I agree it would be different if there was some reason the child COULD'NT learn.. and some of the backpacks are really cute! But I have a friend who used one on her child, and every time the child was let loose, she ran off. She had no idea she wasn't supposed to because she had never learned.

  2. Lol, no harnesses here just well trained children. I love the police raid line, as I too have my 3 line up with hands on the car, or a building if we are lined up at an atm. People often smirk, but hey, at least they are safe!

  3. "I assume it's because she managed to chew through her previous cloth lead." I love this!

    "It keeps them safe, but it's also funny to see them lined up like little hoodlums in a police raid. Hey, I get my kicks where I can." Love this too!

    It's funny because my Mum is very much of the "train the kids" perspective herself, but eventually succumbed to the harness with me despite her previous "I'll never do that to MY kids" stance. I would expect that it was used as an emergency stop as I was quick and silent. So I'm not going to ever think that I'd rule it out as an option where safety was an issue, even if I'm a fan of the "World-proof the kids" rather than the "Kid-proof your world" option.

  4. I'm firmly anti-harness (although, as you pointed out, I can see situations where one might legitimately need to use one). Kids I usually see harnessed are scrambling at the end of their tether like an animal--I am embarrassed for them and their parents.
    My husband and I also subscribe to the hard work now with (hopeful) rewards later method of parenting. Better to teach the kid why they need to stay close, because they can't be tethered forever!

  5. Training rather than 'harnessing the whirlwind' seems an entirely sensible long-term plan.

  6. Nah, I never used a harness,,at a certain age when together my older two would do a loop of the isle at the supermarket together, I would hold my breath until they appeared at the top again...but I think thats about it of the running off...and I have a loud I would call out (YELL OR SCREAM) at them to come back...and they always did...(thank heavens) little m hasnt been much of a runner, but she does hide in the clothes racks at Target and 'boos' me at odd times to make my heart miss a beat with fright. In car parks, all three of my monkeys HAD to have one hand on the trolley to all times...and all three learnt to stand by the car door while loading up or waiting for me...little m will not cross a road without my hand and if she is defiant one day, then I just tell her I have allll the time in the world, so we can stand here all day if she wants, cos I will wait till she takes my hand. All kids have moments where they may bolt, or get confused and run the wrong way and give us mothers another grey hair and instant heart palpitations..but hopefully never to cause injury...

  7. Oh man, gosh I ramble....I always write the loooongest comments..

  8. I had a stuffed monkey backpack with a lead for its tail for my daughter. It was a gift, she loved it, and when she wore it she insisted on holding the end of her own lead and making sure that she herself didn't run off! Sometimes her brother would lead her, and they thought it was fantastic.

    I also spent a LOT of time training them about walking safely with Mummy, but I wish I'd had that harness on her the day she had a tantrum and zoomed away from me into the path of a car. (The driver was superbly quick on the brakes, thank heavens.)

    I had a friend with many small children, one of whom was a silent runner, and she HAD to use a harness. She was often verbally abused by members of the public because of it. I think that's sad. Some people are so nosy.

    Do you think dragging a kid by a harness is any worse than dragging them by an arm? I don't know! I guess there is NO dignified way to move a small person who doesn't want to be moved!

  9. My boys were runners when they were little, but the only time we did anything like a harness was when we were at a Ren Faire. We were sitting down, resting in the shade, and Boy #1 decided (age 3 at the time) was gonna keep going. We ended up tying a rope belt to the back of his Osh Kosh's, and tying the other end to a walking stick. He ran in circles, and we moved at his pace, and it worked well. I would have used harnesses though, if I had them, as they would not only run, but go with just about anyone who was walking around. Luckily, they're older now, so it's better, but sometimes we still have to get at Boy #2 about running.

  10. Like you I also believed in train the children but I did also have a harness and later on a "wrist leash". Living in places where blond(e) children were primary kidnap victims (South America in the 1990s) there were some risks I was not prepared to take in crowded environments - airports and busy markets being the two main ones.

    What I really objected to was the sanctimonious American family who took the time to discuss with me my "appalling parenting skills" for using a wrist leash on my 3 year old. Note at the time I was travelling with her and my 1 year old son as a sole parent at a major international airport which was absurdly busy while their own devil-spawned brats ran amok climbing all over other people's suitcases and running off out of line of sight. My self restraint was spectacular. The self restraint of the lady in the queue behind me as not quite as spectacular as she objected on my behalf!

  11. I've never liked those harnesses, but as with so many other parenting issues, my views on a lot of things are changing, now that I have a 14 mo. old monkey child lol. My guess he won't just need a harness, he'll need a damn cage soon! Haha, no but in all seriousness, I'm more anti-harness than pro-harness, but I can definitely see situations where they're useful and at times, as OonaghR mentions above, downright necessary.

    Great post! :)

  12. We grew up with these harnesses, although we called them 'reins' (like on horses). I grew up in a world of public transport, carrying the shopping home by hand and very few people had baby buggies. If you did, they didn't collapse easily and were a nightmare to take on buses.
    I seem to have turned out OK. My sister also seems quite sane. It's all very well to 'train' your children (which is, of course the ultimate goal) but there's all that time in between when they aren't very reliable at doing as they're asked, or just get distracted by something interesting.
    I remember putting my son's harness on in the morning and using it to clip him securely into his high chair when needed, into his pusher (they didn't have built in harnesses in those days), and later attaching reins so that he could walk with me like a big boy. I hauled him off the curb when he tried to chase a bird and would otherwise have gone under the wheels of a car.
    A harness is just a means to an end and a useful training tool in it's own right.

  13. Excuse me for sounding like a 16 year old here... but oh... eeem... geee.

    I'm this very debate with myself... you've read my mind.

    Fatty is a dasher... she'll dash and hide when oppoutunity strikes... which maybe amusing for her, it isn't amusing for me.

    We have the same rule, hold my hand or get carried. It has been the cause of many tantrums.

    I don't like the harnesses but I see the need for them. Especially when we'll hopefully moving to Sydney's eastern suburbs. It'll be busier, more crowded. So I think it's fantastic peace of mind for me.

    I'll still enforce the hold my hand rule, the harness will be there in the event of a hand drop and dash attempt.

  14. I used one on my oldest when we lived in England. It is a crowded country, the traffic is horriffic, the sidewalks are very narrow, and it is common for moms to use harnesses for their children there. It didn't bother my older son. My younger son wouldn't tolerate it, however. I wish I had used it on him anyway. He almost wandered out into traffic once when I was distracted; thank God a friend saw him and made a dash for him and caught him.
    When I used it in the States with my older son, I got dirty looks from everybody. Funny how different cultures see those things. I didn't use it in the States because I couldn't stand the dirty looks and being that conspicuous.

  15. My mum gave me one because she used one with us when we were kids. I have never used it on either of my kids because, like you, I prefer to teach them the right behaviour - how will they learn otherwise right?
    I feel pretty much the same way but I do understand there are those with more children or problematic children who do not respond to teaching in the same ways.
    I also get my kids to put a hand on the car when we are unloading or loading. Generally it is filthy dirty with gravel dust from the tracks around here though, so they end up covering the interior of the vehicle in little handprints :D

  16. this is a debate i am having now, when my 2 little ones are still non-walkers... my big boy was (and still is as far as 3.5yr old boys go) very good at listening to me & my reasoning behind holding hands, not running away, not being silly in car parks etc but me thinks that these 2 wee little girls of mine are going to be a whole other story....and surely there is going to be at least one runner...... and i bet its the little one!! I try so hard not be a judgey judger-son when i see kids with their leashes on because I know that although i hate the thought of them, the thought of having one of my goregous bambino's smushed under a truck cause for more alarm then worrying about the looks i'd get from mums like myself!! maybe they just wont ever walk so it will be a non issue?

  17. My sister in law had them for her twins, cut to us at the International airport, them laying on the highly polished floor and them demanding I drag the around! kept all 3 of us amused even though I got some strange looks. You cannnot cart enough suitcases for 5 people with 8 weeks of toddler stuff around Sao Paulo airport and not lose children, well worth itt in this instance.


  18. I remember wearing a harness when I was a little girl either when in my push chair or with reins for walking. Growing up in a large town, I now understand that being out on reins was sensible although at the time I didn't like being on the reins.
    As a mum (also in the same large town) my daughter (just 3) needs to be on her reins, but I am trying gradually to reduce the use. In airports and unfamiliar places reins are a must.

  19. I once thought the harness was ridiculous, however now with my daughter @ 2 years of age I don't object nearly as much. She listens well and stays with me, but I am a believe in redundancy with regard to safety. I have never read of a child becoming lost or (God forbid) being run or hit by a car while on a harness. A child's reaction to things is different than an adult. It seems silly to leave safety in the hands of someone who occasionally tries to eat something off of the floor.

  20. My daughter loved her reins! She had a rather stout set of leather reins, and happily wore them up to the point where they no longer fitted her ( about 8 years old - but her choice) Many a time they were a godsend saving her from darting under a bus. Yes, there were occasional snide comments, but they are easier to deal with than commiserations.

  21. I remember in the 70's living in Lyon wich is such a big city,I was aged 7 ,and seeing a little girl that was our neighbour on the other side of the sreet,I let go my mothers hand,and crossed over I was nearly knocked over by a car,and as soon as my mother got hold of me ,she slapped me in the face ,saying "do you realize what you have just done ?!,that's final ! i'm going to put you in a leather harness,and at the first baby's shop we stopped and we walked in ,my mother asking straight away " I would like a good leather harness for my boy here!",and a young lady came along with a blue leather harness with on the oval front belt with rings there was a little white lamb,and she fitted it on me ,pulling the straps over my shoulders and fixed them with the big iron buckles in the back,+ a long 3 metre leather line to hold me.My mother was quite pleased,saying to me from now on you won't make a move without your harness,and I continued to be put in it up to 9 years old,but really I don't have any bad feelings about it,because it probably saved my life !