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Toddlers Walking Without a Harness or Reins

Updated on August 29, 2012

As soon as toddlers find their feet they are off. Keeping them safely by our side can be a challenge, as young inquisitive minds and energetic spirits are keen to explore the world.

Walking with toddlers is a great way to allow them to practice their walking skills, burn off some energy and help them to learn about their outside environment. Busy streets and fast cars can present us with hazards, so learning to walk safely by the side of an adult is a very important skill.

Some parents like to use a harness or wristband; certainly if that is a helpful approach for parents then it does keep children safe and prevent them from running off.

Other parents are not keen on the idea of restraints, and prefer to use other techniques to keep our children walking safely next to us.

These are some tips which have worked very well for me and my children; I hope some may be useful for you too.

1. Plan your journey. Young toddlers who are new to walking outside cannot walk far, they tire easily, and it is hard for them to stay focused for a length of time. Short trips to begin with are best, perhaps from your home to a local store, try leaving the pushchair behind, if things get tricky you don't have far to walk back home, carrying a toddler if necessary.

2. Pick a good time. A child who is tired or hungry will not enjoy his walk or be in such a compliant mood as one who is well rested and with a full tummy.

3. Be patient. Very important. As adults we see a walk to local shop as a means to an end. From a child's perspective the walk is a whole adventure in itself, punctuated by many exciting and interesting things. A gate that needs closed, a feather that needs to be picked up, noisy trucks that have to be admired,: not to mention the cats, dogs, bicycles, puddles, pretty stones, flowers, people with funny hats. A walk will be a lot more enjoyable for you both if you slow down and take time to appreciate your surroundings.
Remember this is one of the very best things about being a parent- to be able to see the world through a child’s eyes and to marvel at how it looks fresh again to us..

4. Try to stay focused. As lovely as it is to slow down and smell the flowers; left to his own devices a toddler will completely forget that the task in hand was to mail a letter/ buy some milk. Keeping the tempo upbeat will ensure that the function of the walk remains intact, which is a nice life skill for a toddler to start to learn (especially if he gets to pop the letter into the mail box himself)

5. Hold hands. Seems simple, but helps a child stay attached. A loving warm hand is especially nice on a cold day. Holding hands can be optional, except when crossing roads, then it is vital, and not open to negotiation. If no hand then a child must be carried. For young children who walk slowly carrying is always a safer option when crossing.

6. Always have the child to the inside of the pavement. Again a simple one, but never allow a child to walk nearest to the traffic. Placing yourself between the child and potential harm will give you extra time to react if a child stumbles or darts off.

7. Choose quiet roads with little traffic. Until your child masters the act of walking compliantly beside you and you are confident he will not run off, it is better to minimise dangers.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

8. Master the art of the Pied Piper. As fascinating and wondrous as the outside world is to a child, at least as attractive is an animated adult engaging with him. A child who is with an adult plugged into an MP3 player or ignoring him is dull and tedious, and the temptation to explore and run off become far greater. Keeping a child engaged is the single most helpful tactic to use if you want your little one to stick to you like glue. Make your company irresistible so:

9. Talk to your child: notice what he notices, he hears the honk of a car horn, you do too, mention it, maybe you could try making a few honking noises. You see a bird land in a tree,
he has seen birds in his own garden, and remembers feeding them that morning. He sees a bus- remind him he went to visit granny on a bus. Keep up the conversation if you see he starts to linger behind or wants to walk on too far, be animated and upbeat, he will want to stay close to listen.

10. Marching. Feet are great things, all that one-two, what a rhythm, very hypnotic, it becomes a captivating beat. March together, walk like soldiers, say out “ ONE TWO!”, to each other, have a stamp and a giggle.

11. Sing. A move up from marching, and only for the brave or brass necked in public, but the public don't care, and if anyone hears you your singing will usually illicit a smile. Someone singing in public with a toddler may be a little eccentric, but very loveable to see. Any song with a march rhythm is great for walking, our favourite was the Grand Old Duke of York!

12. Allow your child to focus. A great way of doing this is using a push along toy, either a musical turning barrel on a wooden stick, or a duck with flip flap leather feet which makes a satisfying slap on the sidewalk. This is particularly good for toddlers who tend to run away. Toddlers take great pride in their work, and having a serious task like this to concentrate on is fun and very satisfying for children. There are a range of toys like this available, from push alongs, to little light trolleys, or toy buggies to put in a favorite doll or stuffed animal. These toys help a toddler feel quite in charge and responsible.

13. Giving a stick to hold. Again sounds simple, but easy to do, in the countryside a little piece of branch is lovely to hold or drag along to tap things with, in town a stick can be satisfying to run along railings to make a delightful clacking sound as you walk along.
Be mindful of private residences or disturbing the peace, but in a busy city street no-one will be disturbed.

14. Walking on walls. This is taking the slight obstacle route to wherever you are going, but once basic walking techniques have been mastered, children love to walk along a low wall that may border a sidewalk. Be mindful of safety, hold hands at all times, use low walls only, and be prepared to catch with little or no warning- but delightful fun.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just some tips I have used to make pavement parenting a little easier. If you have more to share I would love to hear.


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    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      5 years ago from Florida

      I always enjoyed walking with my toddlers! We would stop and talk about different things we saw on our walk.

      You have given some good tips and advice here.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Great ideas, and safe too, I remember it very well with my son! lol! talk about a mother hen! I was herding him across roads, holding on like a leach of course, then the walls! well I stood there with my hands out totally ready to do a rugby catch! lol! great stuff, voted and shared, nell

    • Silver Fish profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Fish 

      7 years ago from Edinburgh Scotland

      Thanks for your comments Laura. My own mother used reigns with me and I remember how much I disliked them. I am pleased you thought my tips were useful.

    • LauraGT profile image


      7 years ago from MA

      Nice tips! I have never considered using a leash for a child. I suppose I can understand how it would be helpful, but I think your tips are great ones for avoiding them. When my children were little, if we were in a really crowded place I would either pop them in the stroller or hold them if I was afraid of them getting lost.

    • Silver Fish profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Fish 

      7 years ago from Edinburgh Scotland

      Absolutely, reigns can be a very useful tool. Some parents however don't like to use them and prefer to teach a toddler to walk safely beside them instead.

    • PenHitsTheFan profile image

      Amy L. Tarr 

      7 years ago from Home

      You could always use the child leash. I know people dislike this but busy places it is so common for kids to wander off... or worst yet, for someone to lure them away. I think every person has a memory of being lost as a child so even the best parent can slip up once in a while.


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