Using Leashes With Toddler Twins or Multiples

Responsible Restraint or Inhumane Indignity?

Boy wearing harness while walking on sand
Patrik Giardino / Getty Images

Safety harnesses—or leashes—can provide freedom for toddlers, within certain boundaries, but their use is not without criticism thanks to the association some people make with animal restraints.

For parents of multiples, using a harness can make all the difference when it comes to keeping up with more than one roaming toddler at the same time. But because there is little data available to support their safety or efficacy, using a leash is really a judgment call for parents to make.

Using a Harness With Multiples

One of the most challenging phases of parenting multiples is the point when their desire to explore the world exceeds their ability to recognize and avoid danger. Generally, this difficult stage exists between the ages of 1 and 3, as children become mobile.

Almost every parent of multiples experiences a situation where their toddlers take off in separate directions. They may stand frozen, not knowing which child to chase after first. It's one of a twin parent's biggest struggles. Using a harness is one way that parents of multiples can prevent this scenario from playing out.

Criticism of Harness Use

Because there is little scientific research or data available on the safety and efficacy of leash use, the chair of the injury prevention council for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Benjamin Hoffman, MD, discourages their use. Hoffman was quoted in a 2019 article for Good Housekeeping as saying, "We don't have data on injuries associated with the leashes, but we also lack information about why parents use them, and what any benefit might be."

Harnesses and leashes have also become so closely associated with animal control that some people actually find it offensive to restrain a child in the same manner. Instead of "walking" children on a leash, some critics of leash use insist that it is more humane to simply teach children not to wander away or run off, but there is no guidance from the AAP or other official sources to directly support this assertion.

In addition, some parents may feel uncomfortable about the extra attention generated by using leashes. Generally, twins and other multiples are already in the spotlight when they go out in public, and it's possible that your family will encounter even more scrutiny when leashes or harnesses are used.

Benefits of Harness Use

Some parents feel that using leashes is actually less restraining than keeping kids cooped up in a stroller all the time, although, again, there is no research available to back up this belief. The thinking here is that leashes provide freedom to roam around but allow parents to control boundaries and limit danger.

For parents of multiples, using a leash can be a very effective way to keep kids from disappearing in different directions in large crowds or near busy streets, especially in places where using a double or triple stroller might not be ideal. A harness or leash can come in handy during outings like trips to the park or zoo where parents may want to give their children a chance to explore the world on their own terms, but can't chase after multiple kids running different ways.

Even if you are able to hold on to the hand of one or two children, hand-holding isn't always the easiest way to keep up with your kids in public, especially during times when you need to actually use your hands to pay for something, wipe a nose, use the bathroom, or any other number of things.

Some parents also recognize that holding their child's hands for an extended period of time can be uncomfortable for small children—imagine how you'd feel keeping your hand raised above your head for an entire trip through the zoo.

For parents of higher-order multiples, the number of children simply exceeds the number of parental hands, making leashes a helpful alternative.

Types of Harnesses

Each type of harness connects parents and children in a different way, so it's important to understand how each one works in order to decide which (if any) is the best option for your family.

Several leash and harness styles are available:

  • Backpack: Some leashes attach to a backpack that a child can wear over their shoulders. They often come in colorful character or animal designs that kids may enjoy using.
  • Chest harness: A leash can attach to a chest harness that wraps around a child's torso area and underneath their arms to provide ample control and restraint.
  • Wrist strap: Leashes with wrist straps typically attach to both the parent and the child by way of an adjustable, padded strap around one wrist.
  • Retractable: Regardless of the way that it attaches to the child, the extension leash of some safety harnesses is retractable so that parents can easily control the amount of distance between themselves and their child.

A Word From Verywell

Because their use is controversial, if you choose to use harnesses or leashes to help keep up with multiples, it could be beneficial to plan ahead for how you might handle criticism or judgment from people in public. You can respond to others by backing up your stance or by simply ignoring comments altogether.

Either way, there is peace in knowing that you have made the best and most informed decision that you can for your family.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Child development: Toddlers (1-2 years old). Updated March 6, 2020.