Earlier this week on Izzy Mom, I found an interesting discussion of toddler harnesses. Although I wrote a comment there, it struck me that I should talk about it here too.
Jim was a harnessed toddler. His family was living in a rural German outpost where the locals thought nothing of putting a kid in a lederhosen-suspender inspired harness. He remembers it as having little Bavarian Alpine costumed bears on the front. It's probably partially responsible for him living to be an adult.
His only negative memory of the harness was years after he no longer needed it. On their emergency return to the States after his grandfather had a heart attack, his brother was wearing during a long layover at busy JFK Airport. My worried mother-in-law was traveling alone (inter-continentally) with two young kids, so it was natural to leash the youngest rather than lose him in the enormous airport.
A stranger approached his mother and poured out vitriol about child abuse and treating her kids like animals. Jim's mom, already pretty stressed over her dad's health problems and the stresses of overseas air travel, broke down. Needless to say, that memory stayed with Jim.
When we created a baby registry for Ranger Jim happily scanned in the monkey backpack harness at Target (~$15). I didn't think twice about it.
Ranger took his time deciding to walk independently which meant monkey lived on a closet shelf for a long time. Eventually Ranger got better at walking, running, and bolting away. The stroller seemed counterproductive: while it contained an enthusiastic Ranger, it didn't give him any outlet for all that energy or enthusiasm for walking.
Monkey came down off the shelf, but I couldn't bring myself to put it on Ranger. So it sat on the kitchen table until Ranger took notice.
"Monkey!" he pointed.
I picked up monkey and gave Ranger a once over. "Well, I guess you're old enough. Be gentle."
The words old enough coupled with hesitation were enough to make him clamor over to me hands out. "PWEEESE?"
Awww. So, I gave him monkey sans tail. They became fast friends while Ranger gave him the whole tour of the house. Ranger loves talking to monkey- philosophy, politics, recipes, whatever.
It was a major value added feature when Ranger found that Monkey could give him a hug and ride piggyback.
When I hooked on the tail, things were a little intimidating (to me). Definitely start your harnessed kid on carpet. The best technique I found was making a couple loops around my hand so I could feed out a little extra length when Ranger charged toward the end of the harness' reach. The extra length (delivered with a little resistance) helped him slow down and stay upright.
Ranger didn't mind the harness and leash at all. They helped keep him in close proximity, but harnesses still require good parenting skills. A harnessed child still gets to choose their direction (which won't always be the direction the parent chooses). The child can still sit down, refuse to move, or tug in a undesirable direction, so the parent needs to communicate with their child a lot for this to work. A parent must be willing to pace themselves with their toddler rather than expect the converse.
It was a major boon for independently-minded Ranger to be able to walk rather than be captive in a stroller. Because a toddler's stride is so much shorter than an adult's, a walk around the big downtown library is like a marathon. Our boy sleeps extra-long on days we get to walk a lot.
A harness may not have long period of use with every kid. After a few weeks Ranger realized that we wanted him nearby in busy places, so he sticks closer in normal scenarios. He loves wearing monkey as a backpack, so sometimes he wears into stores just for fun (with the tail packed inside).
If your kiddo prefers bears, dogs, unicorns, cows, or fuzzy sheep, they make Harness Buddys of all those animals too.
We now use the harness primarily in places where he'll get excited and sprint off (zoo) or places where we're standing in a long line and don't have a free hand to hold (post office).
I haven't noticed people giving me the stink-eye, but I'm usually more focused on Ranger than the people around us. They can think what they want. Most people came over to make some "monkey on his back" comment. I think the opportunity to feel witty may have made people feel less critical about the harness itself.
One good friend thinks torso harnesses are cruel, but approves of wrist harnesses. In exploration of her theory, I tried a wrist harness on Ranger. He HATED it- flung himself on the floor and screamed- hated it. For him it was overwhelmingly frustrating to have more limited hand mobility. Maybe it's a family trait- because when I thought about it, it seems like a wrist harness would be more off-balance and obtrusive.
I think with the right harness and a team mindset that a harness/leash can be beneficial to everyone involved (kids, parents, innocent bystanders).
What do you think?
Baby Toolkit is the independent opinion of Jim and Adrienne Jones. We have no relationship with Goldbug or Eddie Bauer (makers of Harness Buddies) and have received no compensation for this independent review.
Photos by Adrienne Jones, 2007- all rights reserved.