Child leashes: An alternative view, and alternative option
[Note: This is a short series of blogs that are a mental exercise in organizing my thoughts to ultimately create a few short articles. Please forgive any hypothetical, theoretical, grammatical, or other errors as I hammer this into a less-shapeless form. Gentle comments and suggestions welcome. Thanks for your patience. --DP]
Has this ever happened to you?
The Grocery Store Scenario
Picture yourself in a grocery store with a baby in the cart-carrier, and toddler clinging to your ankles, and a four-year-old running around the cart making airplane noises. You’re moving along happily at a decent clip, grooving to the light, slightly fruity elevator music. The air is cool in the deli and produce aisles, and the butcher waves and smiles at your baby from behind the meat counter. All is well in grocery-land.
You turn off the end-aisle down the coffee-tea-sugar-flour aisle. From the red grinder on the shelf, the aroma of fresh-ground roasted coffee overwhelms you, and you pause to look briefly at the assortment on the shelf to see what good stuff is there, and what you can afford. After only a moment you look up and a feeling of anxiety overwhelms you—junior is nowhere in sight.
How about this?
The Airport Scenario
You are shuttling yourself and your children through an airport toward the security checkpoint on a busy holiday weekend. The smell of hot, sweet, sticky cinnamon buns fills the air and mingles with that of new paperback novels and glossy magazines on racks and the faint hint of jet fuel. An electric cart whizzes beeping past, and there are a hundred splashes of color as every advertiser on the planet attempts to overwhelm your senses from every direction.
You have your baby in a stroller, a small carry-on bag with roller wheels, your shoulder-bag brimming with kiddie stuff, and your toddler tailing along. Your spouse has momentarily separated from you to park the car in long-term, and to check the bags and will meet you at the gate. You recognize you do not have enough hands to manage the stroller, the bags, and your little runner, so you whip out your trusty child leash. “No problem, situation under control,” you proudly think to yourself.
As you fasten the harness on your child she starts with a pout, which quickly devolves to a frown, and you see it coming….from the bottom of her feet it wells up and climbs to her gut, where it gathers strength and continues to ascend. Picking up steam like a tropical storm, it reaches the bellows of her chest…now Category 5 hurricane in the making. As it reaches her throat the tempest is boiling like a pressure cooker behind the steam-whistle of an old coal train.
Suddenly, it erupts—that red-faced scream of utter childhood resistance. Her face goes crimson, her eyes puff and pucker, the tears stream sideways out the corners of her eyes. Her hair is already damp and curly with the heat of her rage. In the final gesture of defiance she plops her bottom down in the middle of the airport causeway, just in time to get nearly trampled by a well-dressed and hurried group of business travelers with a cavalcade of roll-on luggage, late for their transfer. You are met all around with stares of scorn and disdain.
The social stigma of the child leash comes down full-force like a yoke around your shoulders. Some über-useless brash college kid in torn-up jeans, a punky tee-shirt and worn-out chucks who never in his life even babysat for a child snidely comments, “Why do you treat your child like a dog? Would you like to be led around on a leash?” All you can hear above the din of the bustling terminal is the pounding of your heart in your ears. Your neck is hot and your collar is wet with the sweat of frustration and embarrassment. Everything is a blur, and then it comes—the final boarding call for your flight…and you haven’t even made it through security yet!
Wouldn’t it be great if there was some way to keep children close, keep your family together, without overly restricting them, but instead giving them room to explore?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have something that provides the security of a child leash, without the pain and struggle of fighting the child to use it, and without the social stigma of involuntarily binding your child?
Is there a way to take an anxiety-ridden trial and remove the fear and loathing of the task, replacing it with a fun, enjoyable experience for parents and children?
Anyone who is a parent probably has encountered a time when they wish they had more hands, when their child ran off despite their best intentions and precautions.
Anyone who has traveled with children and tried to navigate through a busy airport knows the stress and anxiety this creates. Those who have not unreasonably chosen to use an involuntary leash or tether system may have encountered resistance from the child (sitting down in the middle of a passageway, crying, screaming, tangling other travelers), or the social stigma and perhaps outright derision from others viewing the situation from ‘the outside’.
Most people probably would prefer not to involuntarily bind their child, however, in the interest of safety in today’s uncertain world, that is often preferable to losing a child or having a child abducted.
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The Gripsterz Alternative: Bonding without Binding
It is natural for both a parent and a child to fear separation from each other, but it can easily happen. Anyone with more than two children knows that you quickly run out of hands to hold, and it is difficult to figure out how to keep them all close. Child leashes, tethers, and harnesses are all ways to secure your children, but as the above illustration shows, any person’s natural reaction to an involuntary binding is to resist. A child’s form of resistance is often loud and distracting. The idea of involuntary binding is the root of the social stigma attached to leashes, as most forms of tethering are associated with domestication of animals, and people don’t like to think of children in the same sense.
There have been some products out there that have made some progress in mitigating the effects of the tethers. Some create a connector that attaches to a child via a fasten-able backpack. This is helpful as a child is less resistant of a useful backpack that holds ‘their stuff’ (to which happens to be attached a connection strap). Bonus points for those who combine this with a stuffed animal appearance whose harnesses masquerade as arms and legs “hug” the child in a piggyback position.
There is also a newcomer product to this field which goes a step further, utilizing the innate nature of children to create a fun, constructive link between child and parent, while fostering an enjoyable experience and enhancing the relationship. A physician and a nurse practitioner, parents of 9 children, teamed up with a Pediatric Occupational Therapist to develop a product formulated in a way to maximize its attractiveness to children and its utility.
Gripsterz StayAlong is our product that is an adorable monkey handle with several strap attachments that allow you to configure multiple ways to create a link between you and your child. A child has a natural tendency to resist being involuntarily bound. Conversely, a child has a tendency to cling to a hand-sized toy (just try taking a Matchbox car from the clutches of a two-year-old Dale Earnhardt in the making). The more friendly in appearance, and the more grippable and tactile the toy, the greater the tendency for the child to stay attached to it. Thus the success of small hand-held toys (Polly Pockets is a good example, Lego Duplo bricks and the all-time classic wooden blocks).
When a child develops a psychological bond with a toy (or character handle), they do not need to be involuntarily tethered. They will want to hold on to that familiar handle for comfort and security. This gives them room to explore, but keeps them close to parents while freeing up the adult’s hands.
Even if a family only has two children, holding hands has its limitations. If one child wants to stop and look at something and the other wants to go tearing ahead, Mom or Dad could lose an arm. Gripsterz StayAlong allows each child a little bit of freedom to do their own thing, but within reasonable limits.
What is also important is for parents to realize when children are young, that they need to take a little time before an outing to build rapport and relationship with their children, and address what a child might expect to encounter on their trip, as well as what will be expected from them. When expectations are clear, anxiety is lessened, and goals and limits are more understandable. Gripsterz helps achieve this with a board book included in the packaging. It reviews some common places you might go with your child, and gently touches on what might be expected during the outing, using the Grippy character as a friendly guide. Having the physical, visible and tactile presence of Grippy during the trip reinforces some of the concepts reviewed by parent and child earlier. A calm, friendly verbal reminder of some of the points will help most children stay close and on the same page as Mom or Dad. Getting in the habit of spending a precious few minutes reviewing expectations with your child ahead of time goes a long way in relationship-building in the toddler years and well beyond.