When are kids too old for strollers? Experts say there are benefits to making them walk instead

·6 min read
When are kids too old for strollers? Experts say it depends on each child's individual needs. (Photo: Getty Creative)
When are kids too old for strollers? Experts say it depends on each child's individual needs. (Photo: Getty Creative)

It was only a few weeks ago that the internet expressed big opinions over actress Coco Austin's Instagram post sharing a picture of her 6-year-old daughter, Chanel, who she shares with rapper Ice-T, in a stroller during a vacation to a Caribbean resort. Shortly after, thousands of internet users flocked to the comments and gave their two cents about when kids are too old to be pushed around in strollers by mom and dad.

"Isn't she like 6 yrs old?" one commenter wrote. "She should be out of a stroller by now."

Others were more supportive of the couple's choice to let their daughter use a stroller on vacation. "My son is almost 6 and we go certain places where I wish I brought a wagon or stroller for him," said one follower. "These people are f***ing haters for no reason."

But how old is too old for a "big kid" to be pushed around in a stroller? Yahoo Life asked pediatricians and parenting experts to weigh in on when kids should stop using a stroller and start walking and running to their next destination.

At what age should kids stop using strollers?

It's a common belief that past the toddler years, kids should say "goodbye" to their strollers, but most professionals and families agree that there's no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of when kids should stop riding in a stroller and start moving around without it.

"From living in a city to having a child with special needs, how and when you stop using strollers should be dictated loosely around recommendations, but grounded in the reality of the needs of the family as a whole unit as well as what's in the best interest of the child," Bethany Cook, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of For What It's Worth: A Perspective on How to Thrive and Survive Parenting Ages 0-2, tells Yahoo Life.

Are there negative implications from long-term use of strollers?

Some experts believe that prolonged use of a stroller can result in underdeveloped gross and fine motor skills and a delay in how a child understands the world around them.

"Being out of the stroller guides in developing safety awareness, walking endurance and understanding of life outside of the stroller," says Samantha Stern, a pediatric occupational therapist and CEO of Empower Kids Therapy. "As a child navigates the world around them, they begin to form a 'body map' of themselves, as well as how they fit in the world around them as they explore. With significant or extended time in strollers, children might not learn as fast in this area."

Additionally, staying in a stroller longer than necessary could lead to potential weight gain as children may miss out on the health benefits of walking.

"Walking not only conditions a child's body, but it can also bolster their confidence in their abilities and provide them with more opportunities to interact with their environment than if they were riding in a stroller," says Michelle Felder, a family therapist and founder of Parenting Pathfinders. "Extending the use of strollers after they're no longer a necessity discourages physical activity and decreases the amount of exercise children are able to receive, which has the potential to negatively impact their physical health and overall well-being."

When is it OK for an older child to use a stroller?

While the ultimate call on whether or not a child is too old to use a stroller will be made differently by every family, the general consensus among parents and professionals alike is that a stroller is appropriate for long trips and excursions ... like a day at Walt Disney World, for example.

"On vacations or birthdays — usually events that are for longer periods of time outside the norm — expect that a child will already be tired from all the excitement," says Stern. "Bringing a stroller to alleviate the potential struggle of walking would be best."

Parents like Jenavie Noggle, a mother of two and co-founder of kids' blanket company Frankie Dean, still use strollers once in a while. Noggle's son's are 3 and 4, but, she only uses a stroller when she knows they'll be walking for a long time, because otherwise she'll end up carrying them.

Other parents bring the stroller as a safety net just in case their kids need it. Jess English, a mom of three kids who range in age from 9 months to 4 years, says, "it definitely depends on the situation."

"I have three kids and rarely use a stroller with my 4-year-old son," English tells Yahoo Life. "However, the stroller then becomes great for storage on the go and as a space for a quick nap."

How to transition kids out of a stroller

If you've made the decision to say "no" to strollers, the transition can be tough for kids. Experts, like Dr. Harvey Karp, a pediatrician and CEO of Happiest Baby, say there are ways to wean your kid from stroller use without the shock of going cold turkey.

1. Consider alternate forms of transportation

"Many children enjoy standing on a kickboard you can attach to the back of the stroller," says Karp. "They love to feel the wind in their hair and to whizz through the world in a magic people-mover powered by their parents. This little platform is a great way to start transitioning children out of the stroller, especially since the seat is right there if they need it."

2. Validate your child's feelings at the start

The transition out of a stroller isn't easy for all children, so it's important to recognize and validate those emotions. "If your child gets tired of walking, validate their feelings and acknowledge their effort," says Felder. "It can also be helpful to offer a more positive perspective of their experience and to bring their attention to the fact that they're working their muscles and getting stronger, and although it can be hard, you know that they can do hard things."

3. Make walking an engaging experience

The nerves about kids running off once they leave the stroller are definitely valid, but experts say parents can use safety leashes to keep kids close by or give their kids a task to do.

"If a parent is worried about safety, give the child a job," says Stein. "If you are transitioning from daycare or home to the car, give your child something to carry: Make it exciting and interesting for them."

"Say, 'Mommy needs help carrying the backpack, let's hold on together,'" she explains. "In the grocery store, have them grab an item off the shelf for you or push the shopping cart. More engagement in tasks will help."

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