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Parenting Traps

The leash question

Keeping a toddler safe as he takes those first steps away from Mom and Dad.

By Linda K. Wertheimer
July 19, 2009
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His hunger for animal crackers met, Simon pushes himself off my lap and makes a run for it.

“Should I grab him?” asks a man sitting nearby in the Starbucks.

“No,” I say. “He won’t stray far.”

My son runs as quickly as his 16-month-old legs can travel. He has begun to test himself and his parents. How far can he walk? How fast can he move? The Starbucks, in Bedford, is smaller than our living room. I let him go.

A week before, I spotted my husband browsing a website about electronic tracking devices for children. Yes, Simon was starting to show independence, but did we need to connect him to a GPS? My husband explained: Usually Simon sticks by our side and follows if we move. But on a trip to Toys “R” Us, the toddler had surprised him. Instead of following Dad, he went around a different aisle. It turned into a game of chase.

The device advertised on the website would attach to a child’s outerwear with a key ring. Ugh. My husband gave up on the notion, though, because consumers had panned the devices in reviews, saying the signals were unreliable. We agreed: No tracking device, and no leash. Our son is not a puppy dog.

David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child and The Power of Play and more than a dozen other parenting books, views a leash as a last resort. Sometimes a parent, perhaps juggling two kids, has to use one for safety reasons, says the Tufts University professor emeritus. “If you have to go shopping and you have a toddler, you can’t be running after him with an infant,” he says. He adds that in today’s world, with super-sized stores, children have more space than ever to flee, and parents more cause to worry.

Each week, Simon’s speed increases. In the grocery store, he will happily sit strapped into a race-car cart and steer. In other places, he darts off, and we follow. Most times, he giggles and circles back to his comfort zone -- Mama and Dada.

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