I’m not sure quite where it came from but I have always had a sort of unreasoned horror about the idea of putting your kid on a leash, as if it (i.e. s/he) were a dog. I think it just struck me as horribly undignified and frankly rather lazy.

And then I saw a girl of at least six, pottering around the supermarket with her mother, wearing brightly coloured fun-reins as if it were the most normal thing in the world, and it made me think – yes, that’s why I hate those things. Because a harness is a thing, a control mechanism, an inanimate object used to restrict freedom, a set of cheerfully plastic chains.

In restricting freedom, the leash reduces the child’s choices and risks, and limits her or his opportunity for learning and exercising responsibility and judgement, for learning (inevitably the hard way, to some degree) how not to get in trouble, and for gaining self-confidence and independence. It also limits the parents’ opportunity for developing trust in their child’s ability to look after her- or himself.

So a child of six or so is still “on the lead” because her mother does not and cannot trust her to walk unfettered without running off or causing some other mayhem, or simply becoming frightened without the lead as a sort of crutch; and the child herself has had such limited opportunity for developing common sense that, in a way, the mother is right. These things are self-perpetuating, in the sense that the need for which the reins cater is a need arising from (overuse of) the reins themselves… a sort of vicious circle.

I’m not suggesting that occasional use of reins has any of these bad effects. Indeed, there have been a few times recently when I have questioned this prejudice myself. In airports, for example, when you have a million things to worry about and you really wish that keeping your excited toddler under constant active supervision did not have to be one of them… When children are too small to really be reasoned with, or to have any hope of understanding an explanation of WHY they absolutely must not wander off right now…

Nevertheless, I will not be using reins. I am prepared to put up with a bit of ARGH! now, because I know that in the long term it will make Ariel more sensible, and my life easier.

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