Nothing can cramp your super swanky style as a parent during an outing like the empty stroller juggle. You know the one: pushing the heavy, awkward trolly, sans child with one hand, while your other is gripping those tiny toddler fingers. Or if you are like me, trying not to steer the sleeping baby into oncoming foot traffic while keeping my eyes locked on my wild two-and-a-half-year-old.
Do we not all have that moment, every single time, where we think to ourselves, “Should I even bring this jogging stroller next time?” or “is it time to revert to the single stroller, in lieu of my double stroller?” That is what we’re here to find out: is your kiddo too old for their stroller?
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut American Pediatric Association-approved answer to this conundrum. Like all of the other parenting answers that I wish somebody would just spoon feed to me sometimes, it appears to–once again–be an “every child is different” sort of deal. Here are some things to consider when choosing to ditch the wheels or keep on truckin’.
The consensus between parenting experts and non-expert parents seems to set the limit at between three and four years old. However, as you and I both know, not every 3-year-old child is the same.
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How well does your child walk?
Around, or a little after, a year old, most children are walking independently. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are walking well on their own. If your little one isn’t so sure-footed and tends to tumble and trip on everything pretty frequently, then maybe riding for a bit longer is a good idea. However, if your mobile munchkin is ready for track meets, perhaps giving them that freedom is the next step.
In an ABC News article, Dr. Shu of the APA says that pushing an active child in a stroller can cut into their exercise time. It’s recommended that children get about an hour of physical activity a day, and a walk is a great way to accomplish that.
Try taking short walks around your neighborhood without the wheels and see how they handle it. If everyone is still upright after a stroll around the block, try extending the excursion to maybe going to the park next.
Physical activity can help improve your child’s motor skills, facilitate their physical development and hone their social skills as they interact with the world around them. It’s also a great way to maintain a healthy weight.
How well does your child listen?
It’s no big surprise that, at times, our kids don’t listen like we wish they would. Children running off or not listening can be dangerous in crowded, unfamiliar environments. Having control over these situations by having your little explorer safe in a stroller is a mighty appealing solution, but it isn’t a permanent one.
If your child is good about listening to you in public and can follow directions well, let them wield their autonomy a little. It can be a good exercise of their independence to let them stroll beside you during your next trip to the zoo.
Unsure if your nugget is up to the challenge? Try practicing at home by giving them short, clear instructions to complete a chore task. While out walking, play ‘Simon Says’ or ‘Red Light, Green Light’ (has Squid Games forever ruined that game for anyone else?) Make it fun, but test their listening skills in new environments.
As stated in this Scholastic article, “Just as learning styles differ from child to child, so does a preschooler’s ability to process directions. Children need time and positive reinforcement to accomplish individual tasks.” They also break down how your child listens and understands directions based on their stage of development and give examples of ways to improve these skills.
How well do you know your destination?
So far, I’ve mentioned your neighborhood, the park, and the zoo: but what if your family trip is to, say, the happiest place on Earth?
Suppose you’re planning an upcoming trip to Disney World or another amusement park. In that case, there’s no shame in bringing the stroller as backup: that’s a lot of walking, a lot of distractions, and a lot of strangers to take into consideration. Plus, the actual stroller guidelines that these destinations have in place can play a factor.
Knowing where you are going can help to determine what your needs will be that day. Aquariums, museums, or hiking are just a few ideas for family trips to take to practice your stroller-less skills as a group.
For what is your equipment designed?
This Consumer Product Safety Commission on strollers states that they are intended for children up to five years old. However, not all manufacturer guidelines are black and white. For instance, a car seat guideline that says that a child should be rear-facing until a certain age may not apply to children under the average weight for their age.
Check the owner’s manual for your specific stroller model. If you’ve lost the original (like I always do), they are always available online. They will list any safety guidelines and recommendations for your model, including height or weight limits. Don’t neglect this fundamental safety consideration.
Other stroller options exist beyond strapping your older kid into a seat. Many double stroller models now have stand-and-ride variants, like bench seats or platforms for older children to ride on that aren’t as restrictive.
The Final Verdict
By most standards addressed here, it seems that the most sensible age to ditch the wheels for good is around three to five. Most regular strollers simply aren’t built to safely cart kids bigger than this. Most kids are also capable of safely getting around without it by this age.
I would say that a general rule of thumb is that if it’s safe for them, travel light. Or if your child can spell stroller, they may be too old for one…or maybe they’re just a little advanced for their age. Seriously though, there isn’t a singular hard cut-off age, but an eight-year-old riding in an umbrella stroller might be sending the wrong message.
The most significant, most important factor is that you, as the parent, feel your child is ready to lose the stroller.
Ask yourself: Are they spending more time on their feet than their bums? Do they listen to you when on an outing? What are you comfortable with? What is your child ready for?
Like most answers to parenting questions: Every child is different.