In recent years walking rings have received a lot of negative attention, with some occupational therapists even going so far as to label the walking rings as being -evil contraptions’ and the Canadian government ordering its citizens to -destroy’ all walking rings (or walkers as they are known). The question is, are walking rings really that bad or is modern day society simply instilling fear into the minds of well-meaning parents who happily put their children in these walking contraptions.
Before we take drastic action and destroy the rings and place an outright ban on all walking rings, it may be a good idea to go back to 1851 – when the first manufactured walking ring was used. Indeed the walking ring that is used today has come a long way from the primitive frame with wheels used by progressive parents in the 1800s, but the basic concept has remained unchanged. The walking ring of yesteryear was used by infants who are not yet able to walk unaided and the walker or walking ring was designed to encourage walking and also to help the immobile infant enjoy the freedom of movement.
The walking rings which are commercially sold and mass produced today may look completely different to those long-forgotten prehistoric walking contraptions, and now feature colored flashing lights and a tray of fun and interactive toys along with a very comfortable and supportive cushioned seat – yet the concept of the modern walking ring has not changed.
However – going back further in time, the well known Dutch painter, Rembrandt drew an infant in a walking ring in the year 1646! Were walking rings used more than three hundred years ago – or was Rembrandt simply predicting the future? Besides the historical reference made by Rembrandt more than three hundred years ago, walking rings only become -trendy accessories’ in the mid 1870s at a time when people began inventing and patenting objects and gadgets to make life easier.
So we know that walking rings have been around for years – centuries even. Even though generations of mothers have found no harm in the guiltless walking ring, are they safe for our children and should they be used?
Why are walking rings used?
Mothers are busy – besides everyday childcare, the house needs to be cleaned, food must be prepared and when our ancestors were presented with this wonder device that gave them a little extra time get things done, they accepted it gladly. A lot of well-meaning parents are also under the impression that by using a walking ring they will help their child to learn to walk faster, so besides giving mom a few moments off, the walkers could actually be beneficial for the infant.
Canada the first country to ban walking rings
If the walking rings are seemingly harmless, why has Canada passed a law which prohibits the sale of walking rings? The Canadian ban that was passed in 2004 strictly prohibits the sale and advertisement of walking rings, and even second-hand walking rings cannot be sold. A person found breaking this law, can face a fine of up to $100 000 or six months in prison! The reason for this harsh ban is that the Canadian government felt that walking rings were responsible for thousands on accidents involving babies that could have otherwise been avoided.
The thought process behind outlawing walking rings is that walkers allow babies to become mobile and they are able to reach hazards a lot quicker than if they were not aided by a walking ring. The other reason for the ban was that 85% of baby injuries treated in Canadian hospitals were caused by babies falling down stairs. These injuries were often serious head injuries. Other common injuries caused by walking rings treated by emergency rooms in Canada, including burns – where walking rings were blamed for babies being able to reach hazards in the kitchen, such as kettles, pots, etc.
In a response to the increasing number of walking ring injuries, the US government (in 1997) announced that all walking rings used in the country had to meet certain design criteria. The newly designed walking rings are too wide to fit through standard-sized doorways, and in addition, an automatic braking system has been installed which bring the walker to a stop at the top of a stair.
Currently there are no regulations in place for the sale or design of walking rings in South Africa. Statistics involving walking ring injuries are not available.
Walking rings do not encourage infants to walk
Besides the potential dangers of a walking ring, parents who believed that the walking device was in fact beneficial to the development of their children, are now being told that the walking rings will actually delay walking and pediatricians are advising parents not to use walking rings at all but allow children to develop naturally (by sitting, crawling, standing and walking)!
Walking rings may have been the saving grace for millions of mothers but today pediatricians, together with occupational therapists, are saying they serve no purpose and should not be used. More than delaying walking, therapists are actually saying that they will delay or inhibit normal motor and mental development.
To use or not to use
The choice to use a walking ring is a personal one and although there are many horror stories which involve walking rings – the bottom line is that parents need to exercise extreme care when their child is mobile, whether their mobility is due to a walking ring or because they are crawling or walking unaided. Safety gates and rails will allow parents to cordon off areas which are off bounds, such as kitchens. The gates can also be used at the top of stairwells to prevent falls and accidents.
In terms of delaying walking, by limiting the use of the walking ring to no more than an hour a week, walking will not be that drastically delayed. If the infant is also encouraged to sit, crawl and stand, the baby’s development will not be affected.
As an alternative to walking rings, many overseas parents are using parent-assisted baby walkers which need full parental assistance. These walkers allow infants to remain suspended in an upright position and parents hold the hands of the infant helping them to develop strength in their legs and coordination to master walking.
Other banned (or dangerous) baby products
The Canadian government is without a doubt, one of the most vigilant governments when it comes to banning and prohibiting the use of baby products which are deemed as dangerous. In addition to the veto on walking rings, the Canadians have also prohibited the use and sale of drop side cots and are actively opposed against the use of cot bumpers, pillows and stuffed animals in cots. Talcum powder is also coming under fire as the fine particles in the powder have shown to cause bronchitis, pneumonia and even lung cancer. Plastic baby bottles are also a no-no in many countries because of the chemical compound, Bisphenol A (BPA), which the bottles are manufactured from.
It may seem that the government banning on such -harmless’ baby products is pedantic and a little over-the-top, however bans are passed for a reason and years of research are carried out to support legislative decisions – food for thought.
– Kathy Baron