A stroller can be your baby’s home away from home while you exercise, shop or socialize with friends. But what happens when your child is older? When his legs dangle off the edge and his interests have moved past the plush toys attached to his mobile home? When is a child too old for a stroller?
“It depends on the child’s and the parent’s needs,” says pediatrician Anatoly Belilovsky, of Brooklyn, NY. “Children who are more athletic, extroverted and independent seem to prefer being able to walk with their parents on their own. While other children enjoy being pushed around and will want to be carried if the stroller is no longer available.”
But some do not agree that children should be allowed in strollers past their toddling years. Recently a famous comedienne complained that strollers would soon come with shaving kits. And many blogs and jokes highlight the age of children in strollers. With stroller options at an all time high, some disagree with kids being in a stroller past age 2.
“I start warning parents at 2 that the stroller should be gone by 3,” says Vicki Papadeas, a doctor in New York City. “Strollers should be used for limited periods of time. Kids, especially toddlers, are not made to sit for long. It’s not good for them—they are wired to move. Moving is a natural, healthy instinct.”
Whether your child adores the stroller or can’t get out of it fast enough, there will come a time when you decide the stroller is no longer needed. Below are a few options to smooth the transition to stroller-free living.
Many mothers become accustomed to using a stroller on long walks, lakefront jogs and even an occasional bout of leg lunges. Strollers are great for this and it is often the sole exercise a parent can fit into a busy day. But if your child is no longer interested in lying back and enjoying the view, or if they have physically grown out of the stroller seat, there are ways to modify your workout.
Involving your child in sprints and jumping jacks will help keep him occupied and you toned. Dance routines can also work wonders. Kids love to dance and will happily mimic every move you make (even if your dance moves are a decade or two old). Skip through the park, walk along the wooded trail and take every opportunity to move.
With a child sleeping in a stroller, parents can sneak in a visit to the art museum or enjoy an adult conversation with friends. But as the child ages, different strategies may be needed. Coloring books and toys can help keep a young child amused during a ladies’ lunch, or spending time in a museum with an educational department that caters to children. In addition, play dates and moms groups provide opportunities for kids to play while parents chat.
Involving a preschool child in your socializing makes the transition easier. With a child in a stroller it is easy for parents to talk or text, especially with adults who don’t have children. Sometimes, without the stroller, it can be simpler to reduce those chats to times when a spouse or a friend is interacting with the children. Finding activities that are fun for both adults and children help to break the stroller habit. Sometimes, something as simple as joining another family for a walk—sans stroller—around the neighborhood can be a great social outlet.
“Look at how kids walk. They are asking questions, holding onto a grown-up, looking all around and discovering. They are exploring every nook and cranny because they are learning about the world. They are learning to move, balance, jump and exercise,” says Papadeas.
A stroller can be great for keeping children close while parents are shopping. But there comes a time when your child must graduate to a seat in the cart, holding your hand or becoming a shopping helper. Assisting in writing the list, picking out foods and filling a grocery cart can help keep kids occupied. Or turn the grocery store into a finding game for numbers, letters and shapes.
Of course, any activity can distract from the task at hand and some parents find they end up at home without a few items. A Bayview dad says he prefers to shop after the kids are in bed for the night. He and his wife agree on the list and he heads to the store for some quiet, focused shopping.
Most parents agree that strollers are a great invention. Launched over two centuries ago, baby carriages have morphed from a toy for the rich to a staple of parenthood. But as the stroller has become ubiquitous they have changed.
“Some strollers are now big and expensive with massive wheels and longer handles. They are comfortable to push and you can actually push a big kid around. It used to be self-limited because the child grew out of the baby stroller,” says Papadeas.
Now, parents decide when a child is too old for a stroller—stroller use is the parent’s decision. Even if your stroller-loving child wants to stay seated, there will come a time to say good-bye. When the time is right for you, put the wheels away permanently. And just like other stages of parenthood, it will require a bit of lifestyle tweaking. But then again we’re used to that. We’re parents.
Different strollers have different qualities. Which one is right for you?
Infant up to 40 pounds
This allows a parent to “click” a car seat into a conventional sized stroller. Babies typically outgrow the car seat at around 20 pounds, at which point parents can use the stroller without the car seat until the child is around 40 pounds, usually around 4 years of age.
6 months to 40 pounds
Compact and light, umbrella strollers are ideal for traveling. They fit into cars and are easy to bring on an airplane. Because the chair does not recline, a baby needs to have developed head and neck control to sit in a foldable stroller. Use can begin around 6 months of age. Some umbrella strollers can hold a child up to 40 pounds or 4 years of age.
6 months to 50 pounds
For parents who enjoy running and hiking, the all-terrain wheels of a jogging stroller can handle city streets and wood chipped trails. Designed for children to sit upright, jogging strollers cannot be used with newborns but most jogging strollers can accommodate children up to 50 pounds, or around 5 years of age.
Up to 40 pounds per child
If you have two young children, a double stroller is the transportation of choice. Some double strollers can also function as a travel system or have reclining seats for use with an infant. Parents can choose between double strollers where the children sit side-by-side or behind each other in tandem.
With a jogging stroller gathering dust in the back hall, Mali Anderson misses her days as a stroller-pushing mother. But she knows the stroller must go, or come winter it will become an impromptu coat rack. Again.
This story originally appeared in the September 2011 edition of metroparent magazine.