If there’s anything we know about toddlers and preschoolers, it’s that they’re quite opinionated about what they wish to be doing and how. So when this mom asked the community at BabyCenter at what age you should transition your kid out of using a stroller, many moms answered with some variation on, “My kid won’t sit in one – he’s much more interested in running around.”
On the other hand, there are plenty of kids who would rather be chauffeured around town in their comfy ride – wouldn’t you? Plus, little legs take little steps, which can really slow you down. Judy Dutton at CafeMom writes, “the first thing I noticed as soon as my daughter was walking more often was this: Man, she is slow. Which makes total sense — her legs are a third the length of mine. Since I’m usually in a rush, my hands often itch for the stroller as she dawdles her way down the block.”
And, it can be easier to keep your child corralled when you’re shopping or trying to get other errands done. Lisa Burby told Metroparent, “If we don’t contain the kids, my husband and I can’t do any shopping. When they start running between the clothing racks, we say, ‘OK, we’re strapping you in and you’re staying put.’” (Remember when you were that age and how irresistible it was to go hide in clothing racks at the store? She has a point.)
Still, exercise is absolutely crucial for kids at any age, and by the time they’re four, they’re usually ready to learn some important skills and independence from standing on their own two feet. Dr. Ari Brown told ABC News, “By this age, kids should be able to follow directions, listen to you and hold hands when you’re crossing the street,” she says. “In this day and age when our children are becoming more sedentary, you’re sending the wrong message by chauffeuring them around.”
While I’m reluctant to generalize from a study of only 78 kids, in 2004, scientists from the University of Glasgow strapped accelerometers on a group of 3-year-olds, and discovered that the wee tykes were getting only 20 minutes a day of truly vigorous exercise. Clearly this isn’t enough – small children have loads of energy to burn off and little muscles to build, and they’re happier and healthier when they get plenty of time to run around. So while using the stroller may be simpler for you, it’s best to get kids to walk as much as possible.
There are, of course, exceptions, which is one reason why I deplore that blog that was established to shame folks with big kids in strollers. For instance, long days at theme parks like Disneyworld are supposed to be fun for kids, but after hours standing in the sun, your 4, 5, or 6-year-old kid is going to be hot, tired, and whiny, and everyone would enjoy the day a lot more if he had a place to decompress under a nice big sun canopy. You’ve paid a lot for a fun experience, and making the whole family miserable by standing on principle does nobody any favors.
And then there are kids with a variety of needs, who are simply safer in a stroller. A commenter on the MetroParent article wrote, “My son is 4 almost 5 and weighs about 80 lbs. He is tall for his age and looks like a 6 yr old. He is autistic and is outgrowing his stroller but he is a runner so he will take off in the wink of an eye anywhere. I have been looking for a bigger stroller not because I want to push him around but because I have to for his safety.”
Ultimately, you know your kids best, and you’ll be the best judge of when your child is ready to say goodbye to her trusty chariot. Just keep in mind that kids need exercise and need to learn independent skills, and try not to default to the stroller just because it’s easier. In a pinch, it’s so handy to have a stroller on hand to keep your bigger child from whining or wandering, but it’s a stage they’ll need to outgrow eventually.