Q: What do you think of kids on leashes? Chicago Parent magazine put that question up on its Facebook page and -- no surprises here -- some readers went ballistic. "Treating the child like a dog!" was the common theme of said rants. One person suggested that these kids be taught to bark. Don't you just love people who think with their pituitary glands?
A. In case you've not seen one in use, a child "leash" consists of a four- to eight-foot tether attached to a comfortable harness the child wears around his or her torso. The leash allows the child a limited amount of freedom (the length of the tether can be adjusted) while in public places while preventing parent and child from becoming separated.
In addition to the safety factor, the idea is for the parent to patiently teach the young child how to properly behave in public places. As the child's behavior improves, the leash can be lengthened, giving the child more and more freedom. The child learns, therefore, that responsible behavior and freedom go hand-in-hand. What a concept!
As for "treating the child like a dog!" and other equally absurd pituitary emissions, I've seen a good number of child-leashes in use in Europe and the occasional use in the USA. Never did the child in question look embarrassed, depressed, angry, downtrodden, or catatonic. Without exception, they seemed quite content -- pleased, even. And never have I seen a child on a leash who was misbehaving. Actually, the well-behaved child is also the content child, and vice versa. Because the leash helps the child learn to behave properly in public places, it is often unnecessary by the fourth birthday.
Let's see. The child on a leash is safe, can't get lost, has lots more freedom than a child in a stroller, is happier than a child in a stroller, is getting more exercise than a child in a stroller, and is learning how to behave himself in public places. If this is treating a child like a dog, then every child should want such treatment.
Here's what's demeaning: Wheeling a 4-plus year-old child through a public place in a stroller as he's drinking from a sippy-cup. Those kids have no idea how demeaned they are, not to mention how absolutely ridiculous that looks, especially to someone my age who remembers the day when strollers were dispensed with by age 3 and children -- the intelligent creatures that they are -- were taught to walk next to their parents and keep their hands off the merchandise. Ah, but that takes patience, tolerance and effort.
Need I say more?
And while I'm on the subject of sippy-cups, here's a radical notion: Instead of giving your child everything but water to drink, make water the norm. Beginning around age 2, introduce open-topped plastic or paper cups with about an inch of water in the bottom. Believe me, a 2-year-old will master the art of drinking from a topless, spoutless container within a couple of weeks. And so what if he spills? It's water! When the child masters one inch of water, increase it to an inch and a half. And so on. By age 3, the child will be drinking full cups of life's most necessary compound without incident.
He may even be able to walk civilly at the end of a leash and drink from an open cup at the same time.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his Web site at www.rosemond.com.