My wife and I are having a debate about an important parenting topic, and I imagine other parents are locked in a similar struggle.

Should we harness our fast, energetic, precocious toddler? I'm uncomfortable strapping a leash to our child. However, my wife feels a harness might be the best way to keep him from darting off.

Toddlers who love to run away in public don't often respond to warnings. What's a parent to do? And what are the pros and cons?

Pros

  • A harness may be effective in restraining a child and prevent him from running away. From a safety standpoint, it might be a no-brainer. Many children love to explore and they have no problem following their instincts into whichever nook and cranny they can find. A harness is often the answer to solve that problem.
     
  • Parents would gain a great deal of comfort knowing that when they go to a crowded mall or a festival with a crush of people, their child won't be able to get lost.
     
  • When you have multiple children, a harness becomes even more useful. With one child in a stroller and another on foot, it makes public outings almost impossible to handle if your toddler is a runner. A harness could be exactly what you need for a sane, productive outing.
     
  • With a harness, you will no longer have to chase after a child at the zoo or library when they inevitably make a run for it. Those embarrassing moments of sprinting through a store at full speed, dodging other shoppers and shopping carts while screaming after a toddler, will be a distant memory.

Cons

  • A harness might be confused with a leash, making it look like you're treating your child like an animal. There will be an embarrassment factor that might make you uncomfortable, placing a restraint on your child in public.
     
  • A harness might also diminish a teachable moment. As parents, we know that each day there are a multitude of moments to reinforce lessons to our children. When a child begins to dart away from us, this is a perfect example of a time to remind a child that their behavior is unacceptable.
     
  • If you want your toddler to have an explorer instinct, a harness might ruin it. Children are natural explorers. A harness could inhibit that important quality.

Other Options

There are options to consider other than using a harness. Hand-holding is one option that would need to be taught over and over again. Consider giving your sprinting toddler two choices — walking or holding hands. This might be one way to cut down on a child's tendency to run. Also, make sure you tell your child that she is wearing her "walking feet."

Talk to your young child often about why running away is not acceptable. Make sure your words match your actions as well. If a child disobeys and runs from you, there should be an immediate consequence. Make sure these incidents are not isolated, however. When you get home after a difficult day, remind your child why her behavior was problematic. It's important your child grasp the importance of staying close to Mommy and Daddy in public.

To Harness or Not to Harness?

The bottom line on harnesses is this — as a parent you know how your child will respond to a restraint. You also know how much misbehavior you can handle from your child.

Weigh the pros and cons and decide if a harness fits with your parenting style.