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A Pediatric Perspective


Published September 22, 2014 9:49 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
Yesterday morning on the way to work I was listening to WWYZ, the local country music station.  The two guys on the morning show (Broadway and Don Juan) were talking about a woman who had just called in.  She was upset that she had been at the grocery store and saw a mom with her young child on a leash.  She felt that it was just inappropriate and that the mother should teach her child how to behave in public and not have to resort to putting the child on a leash.  Of course both Broadway and Don Juan were saying how they felt the caller was right and they would never have a leash for their child.  (It should be noted one is a dad and the other is a young intern without children.)

I was fuming by the time I had heard them finish talking and heard those who were calling in saying pretty much the same thing.  I believe there was only one caller that I heard who said she did not see anything wrong with it if it meant keeping the child safe.  Broadway welcomed people to call in or to post on their Facebook page to share what they thought about children being on leashes.  I tried calling several times but the phone just kept ringing.  When I got home that night I went on-line to their Facebook page to post my thoughts on this and found there was a post from a mom who said that she was surprised how judgmental people could be without knowing the full story.  Someone from 92.5/WWYZ replied that they "thought it was a good conversation.  She wasn't being called any names."

I did post something and if you want you can see my replay here.  As a pediatric therapist I do spend time trying to talk to parents about the need to have a child on a backpack type leash so that the family can get out of the house and the child is safe.  There are children who have no safety awareness, poor impulse control, cognitive and emotional challenges that can't always leave the house if there is just one parent available.  These children will often do well on leashes because they feel "grounded" and "safe".  I work hard to get parents to feel comfortable with having their children on leashes just so they can get out of the house and do some grocery shopping or go for a walk on the beach or at the park, things they would otherwise not be able to do. 

It doesn't matter how much "teaching" they offer their child on "how to behave in public."  If a child is unable to learn due to their disabilities or not able to control their impulses a leash is very helpful.  Who would want to be stuck home all day?  I work with a lot of families who are in the military and one parent is often deployed.  What are these parents to do with a child who has hidden disabilities when they need to go out - when they are miles and miles away from their families and have no support system where they are currently stationed?  The New York Times has a parenting blog that addressed this issue back in 2011 and the vast majority of comments were fine with a mom needing to use the leash - there was no judgments made, just acceptance.

It saddens me that there are people/mothers/fathers who will look at a mom with a child on a leash and not give her the benefit of the doubt that this is the only option open to her.  That they will instead look in judgment instead of look in support and awareness that there might, just might, be something going on more than what they can see with their eyes.  Maybe I support leashes because I am British.  In Europe children are often on leashes when they are little without anyone giving it a second thought.  I have pictures of my sister and I, and our cousins, on the beach with our leashes on having the time of our lives.  There are pictures of us walking down the streets smiling and looking all around - while on leashes.  Why is it so different here?  With all the recent campaigns to bring awareness to children with disabilities and the increase of children with autism -  and just plain keeping little kids safe ... why don't we first look and say a prayer or offer a word of support when we see a mom who may have more on her plate than we will ever know?  Why is it that the first thing we do is jump to the conclusion that she isn't being a good mother and that she needs to teach her child the skills needed to be in public? 

I am truly saddened by this for all the mothers out there who may have listened to that radio morning show and now feel embarrassed to take their child out because they don't want to use the leashes and be wrongly judged. I feel bad for all the moms of who have their hands full getting through each day and find the leash to be one way of giving them some sanity while they are out of the house with their child(ren)

Please share with me how you feel.  Have you used a leash with your child?  What are the reactions you've received?  Have people been supportive or judgmental?  Would you use a leash if you had to?

As I sign off for this week I am going to ask you to please do me one favor.  If you see a mom out there with a child on a leash or a child misbehaving.  Before you judge - please look past what you are immediately seeing and try and understand that there may be more going on than meets the eye.  Offer a smile and a nod of understanding instead of a frown of disproval.  You may just make some mother's day.

*I know I have said "mom" in this blog but I do not intend it to mean that this relates only to mothers.  I do understand that there are many dads out there who have been in the same situation and experience the same things I've mentioned here and who need our support and understanding as well.

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