Are Toddler Harnesses Bad?

by Shara JJ Cooper

According to child psychologist Tina Bryson, toddler harnesses are controversial. It's not a question of whether they are good or bad -- it all depends on how they are being used, why they are being used and who is using them. Parents need to decide if the harness is the right choice for them. A mother of triplets will appreciate the harness, especially when her kids don't want to sit in a stroller any more and she has to face the fact that she only has two hands. But a mom who just wants to sit and talk to her friends without watching her toddler might not be the best candidate for using a harness.

1. Use

Toddler harnesses aren't considered good or bad. According to child psychologist Tina Bryson, it all depends on how you use them. If you are using them to keep your child safe when you have your hands full, as when you are pushing a stroller or carrying groceries, you are probably doing everything just right. Another circumstance in which the harness might make sense is to make sure you don't lose your child in a crowd. However, if you are tying your child to a tree in the yard, not so good. While you wouldn't do that, it's good to keep in mind that there is a time and place. Children who are in a contained area, such as a yard or playground, don't need to be controlled the same way they do on a busy street. Only use a harness when you absolutely need it.

2. Age

Toddler harnesses are designed for (drum roll, please) -- toddlers. They are not designed for crawling babies or 7-year-olds. According to the book "Is This a Phase?: Child Development & Parent Strategies, Birth to 6 Years," children can use harnesses up until they are 4 years old. This depends on each individual child. If your 4-year-old is not listening and still runs off when you are in the store, you may be tempted to stick him in a harness now and then. However, most children will be done with harnesses by their third birthday. By this time, they are listening better and more willing to hold your hand while you walk.

3. Skill Development

Harnesses can be considered bad if your child isn't able to develop age-appropriate skills. According to Dr. Tina Bryson, you should be able to teach your child to stay at your side and not run off. He needs to know why he needs to be within sight of you and how to do this. Children don't learn to control their impulses and body movements as well if they aren't given the room to figure it out. That's why it's important to use the harness only when it's absolutely necessary. The rest of the time, talk to your child about road rules, such as, "When the light turns green, we are going to look both ways before we cross the street."

4. Misuse

It is always bad to use your harness to physically correct a child's behavior. You should never drag your child or yank him with the harness. At the very least, this is demeaning to your little one, but you can also hurt his body and neck with these movements. In fact, this is so dangerous that the police may be called if you are caught dragging your child. In 2011, a woman was arrested for dragging her child through a store by the harness. She was charged with first-degree cruelty to children. If your tot is acting up, handle the situation as if he weren't even wearing a harness.