Real talk here. Strollers are convenient. Sure, there are the kids who run for the hills at the sight of a set of wheels and restricting straps (you know one if you have one), but many love them. And parents love strollers, as well, because they’re a welcome alternative to the back-damaging work that is carrying a child and the exhausting job of chasing after a kiddo who likes to run. But parents of the kids who show no signs of becoming discontent chilling in the stroller might find themselves wondering: How old is too old for my child to be in a stroller?
“Ultimately, there’s really no specific age that’s too old for a stroller since it depends on a number of factors, including where you are at the moment, where you live, how long you’ll be out and your child’s temperament,” says Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, founder of Pediatrician in Your Pocket. “That being said, there certainly are merits to transitioning your child out of a stroller when they’re out and about.”
Wondering if your child has officially outgrown their stroller? Parents and experts weigh in on the nuanced subject.
The ‘right’ age to stop using a stroller
Just as there isn’t a set age moms should stop breastfeeding, there’s no universal hard and fast rule from physician groups when it comes to stroller age limits. That said, there are recommendations.
“In general, strollers shouldn’t be necessary past the age of 3,” says Dr. Brandon Smith, general academic pediatrics fellow in the Department of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. “By that point, children should be walking and running without issue and don’t need a stroller to get around. Also, we want to promote their independence and proper motor development, and we can’t do that if they’re sitting every time they go outside.”
Social and emotional benefits of transitioning out of the stroller
When kids first transition out of a stroller, no doubt about it, there’s a learning curve — and a frustrating one at that. But there’s a silver lining to all that running away and hand-holding refusal your child first does when they’re toddling freely beside you: They’re learning how to navigate the world outside.
“When you start using the stroller less, or stop using it altogether, it provides your child with the opportunity to develop their safety skills,” says Smith. “Once they’re out of the stroller, kids can start practicing holding hands while walking down the street, stopping at crosswalks and learning to look both ways.”
Additionally, letting kids walk when you’re out and about gives them the chance for hands-on exploring, as well as an opportunity to hone their social skills and follow your lead.
“Toddlers and young kids benefit from walking and running when it’s safe, in order to explore the environment around them,” says Smith. “Also, being out of the stroller gives them the chance to read your cues and learn from you about how to act when they’re out in the world.”
Physical benefits of transitioning out of the stroller
If you have a little kid, then you know: They have boundless energy. And an effective way to get it all out is good old-fashioned walking (or, in many cases, running).
“The main reason I recommend limiting stroller use once kids are past the toddler stage is because it’s important for kids to get in the habit of walking, which is great exercise for their muscles, bones and heart,” says Trachtenberg, who advises ditching the stroller between ages 3 and 4. “Also, it helps get out some of their pent-up energy, which will ultimately help them get to sleep later in the evening.”
Also, when you make walking and running part of your child’s daily routine, you’re instilling good habits that will hopefully last well into the future.
“Habits, including exercise, start early,” says Smith. “When you encourage your child to walk or run or their own, and not depend on you, you get them used to moving around while promoting an active lifestyle right from the beginning. Parents should take advantage of their kids’ curiosity at this age.”
The case for making exceptions
You know your child and what works for your family best, so how long you use a stroller is ultimately up to you, and there certainly are situations in which it may make more sense to use a stroller past age 3. For instance, if you’re walking down a grassy trail with nary a car in sight, a stroller probably isn’t in order. On the flip side, you may want to use a stroller if you’re going to be in a crowded area that involves a lot of walking. Use your best judgment. Remember, you’re the parent.
“Whenever I go into New York City with my 4-year-old, I always bring the stroller,” says Heather Kalis, of Clark, New Jersey. “We rarely use it when we’re at home, but it’s unreasonable to expect him to walk miles in a super fast-paced environment. We also bring an umbrella stroller with us whenever we go on vacation since we’re usually out later than usual, and I know he’ll be tired.”
How to handle stroller regression
Ask any parent of two or more kids, and they’ll tell you: Things that were completely unappealing to their oldest often become prized possessions once a younger sibling begins using them, and strollers are no exception. If you don’t want to have your child go back to the stroller — or can’t, because, you know, it’s already in use — consider a glider board, which may offer a fix for what’s sure to be a fleeting desire of your child.
“My 4-and-1/2-year-old had zero interest in a stroller for about two years — until his twin siblings started using one at around 4 months,” says Jaclyn Santos, of Hazlet, New Jersey. “Every time I’d put the babies in the stroller, he’d carry on about how he wanted to ride in one, too. I wound up compromising by getting him a glider board that attached to the back of their stroller, so he could stand up and ride while I pushed them. He’s usually only on it for a few minutes until he wants to get off and walk.”
Safety issues to keep in mind
Though pediatricians may not have an exact stroller age limit, there are weight limits to strollers — some as high as 75 pounds!
“For safety purposes, always make sure you check the weight limit, which varies from stroller to stroller,” says Trachtenberg. “Also, make sure to always use the safety straps, which prevent kids from climbing out.”
Here are a few additional stroller safety precautions to be mindful of, according to the Mayo Clinic:
Never leave your child unattended in their stroller.
Don’t hang belongings from the back of the stroller, which may cause it to tip.
Keep strollers out of the sun, which can cause plastic parts to get hot enough to burn a child.
Register your stroller with the manufacturer. This way, you’ll be notified of any safety recalls.
Always put the brakes on when the stroller isn’t moving.
At the end of the day, no two kids or families are the same, so what works for one may not for another. That said, when the situation permits, giving your child the opportunity to walk around and explore the world, even if only for a short time, will only benefit them.