That is the question!
And it comes up a lot in my safety workshops with parents.
"Is it politically correct?"
"Doesn't it make you look like you're treating your child like a dog?"
"What about those snarky looks from passers by?"
My answer is simple… there are times when using a SAFETY HARNESS in a large crowd or public space can save you a lot of panic, fear, and anxiety. And sometimes, it can come in awfully handy, especially if you have a young child who just doesn't get the "stay next to mommy" concept when you're out and about.
Case in point: A few years ago my friend Juliette took her 3 year old daughter to the mall to go Christmas shopping. Translation: Boring grownup task! Little Ava has the energy most people never know unless they've downed several double espressos. The kid was fast… and a prankster. Restless and bored, she thought it would be delightful to play a little game of hide & seek, as she dashed underneath the dresses on a long rack at Macy's. It never occurred to her that this wasn't okay, because SHE could SEE her mom from where she was hiding. In the span of about 5 minutes, Juliette almost lost her mind. She looked around, called out for Ava, who didn't answer because when you're hiding the whole point is to make the other person keep looking! After a little more frantic yelling and searching by nearby shoppers, Ava popped out and shouted "Here I am!" Juliette swears her hair turned snow white that day, and after that incident, she vowed to reconsider the harness idea.
IMHO, there is nothing wrong with using one of those cute safety backpack/harnesses from time to time, especially if you have a child who is easily distracted, a wanderer, or simply super-curious about everything whenever you're out at busy places. Obviously you'll use common sense. You probably don't need it when you and child run into McDonald's, but at larger venues with crowds of people, sights and sounds, it's not a bad idea. In a busy area where there is so much going on, even parents can easily get distracted; same as kids can. That little "lion or tiger" backpack/harness can be cute and fun, especially when smart parents make wearing it feel like a playful game.
And, BTW, did you know that a lot of kids actually like them, too? Because it allows them a little more freedom to walk around and check things out. They don't have to constantly hold your hand or stand by your side bored to death because you're sifting thru a sales rack.
Maybe it's the word "leash" that fr+aks people out. Stop calling it a leash! And really, you're not treating your child like the family pet if you use one on occasion—puleeeeeze!
We use strollers, even with our toddlers sometimes. No one flips out and thinks "OMG I'm unnaturally constraining my child". We use car seats. No one flips out and thinks "I'm treating my child like prisoner, inhibiting their need to move around and freely look out all the windows."
So here's the bottom line for me:
And lastly, maintain your sense of humor – it's not like you're putting your kid in a straight jacket or naming your offspring "Fido" for heaven's sake!