My 4-Year-Old Is Still In A Stroller And I Don’t Care If You Judge Me
A big part of parenting is desperation to get through any task on your plate, whether it’s a Netflix documentary, picking up Tide pods from Target, or taking a ten-minute shower. Anyone who is elbows deep in raising a toddler knows it doesn’t take much for your tyke to have a total meltdown over something that seems minor such as missing a button on their shirt while getting dressed or an animal cracker with only three feet. As much as we would like to be model parents 24/7, practicing patience and teaching our children to do the same, sometimes you just want to skip the button-up blouse and opt for a hoodie so you can get out of the house on time. A little lazy parenting doesn’t hurt until you’re letting your child eat six Oreos or watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse until 3 AM if it means sparing your sanity. And it’s for this exact reason why I haven’t yet parted with my preschooler’s umbrella stroller.
I mistakenly thought not having an infant anymore meant I could travel a little lighter. A mini Peppa Pig backpack with some goldfish and fruit snacks have replaced a diaper bag filled with pampers, wipes, an extra outfit, a few pacifiers, a defibrillator and just about anything that meant avoiding a wet, hungry or uncomfortable cranky baby. But it appears that toddlers are allergic to traveling without a whole entourage of miniature cartoon figures, dolls, stuffed animals, and an insane amount of goldfish crackers. We can’t leave the house without a sippy cup of strawberry milk on deck, twin stuffed turtles and a random stuffed dog because shortie likes having options for traveling companions. In addition, I still hesitate to go too many places without her umbrella stroller in the trunk.
Trust me, I get it. I cringe whenever I see a parent pushing a child in a stroller who is old enough to pack his/her own lunch, but now that I have a preschooler, I can totally relate. My daughter hasn’t really had to walk too many long distances her first four years of life outside of leisure and exercise. When we’re in the store she’s happy to beeline for the shopping carts and most days she goes from the car to the store, to her grandparents’ houses or a few other destinations that are apart of our weekly routine. It’s not that she absolutely refuses to walk anywhere, she just prefers to ride. So when I think of summer vacations and walks on the boardwalk, or going to the zoo or amusement parks, I refuse to allow our good time to be ruined by placing pressure on my toddler to get in her steps for the day, particularly if she’s otherwise active and getting plenty of exercise.
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t have any official guidelines on transitioning children out of strollers, pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu says, unfortunately, unlike pacifiers or bottles, parents (like me) are hesitant to transition their kids out of the stroller because it’s convenient for all involved. However, it’s actually a barrier for children in the long run:
“It’s one of those things where it has it’s time, like sippy cups, pacifiers and baby bottles. Parents forget to graduate their kids out of strollers because it becomes such a convenience factor, but they’re creating a longer-term problem.”
“The child will never develop strength and conditioning if they’re not allowed to do the walking. Parents don’t want to have the child walk because they’ll whine about being tired, but doing all the walking for them is not helping the child.”
It’s not just about avoiding a temper tantrum, strollers also can provide safety and peace of mind for a parent, especially for parents of children who are prone to running off. Dr. Shu added that strollers can still be a decent option for children up to age 5, particularly in crowded spaces like public transit during a rush-hour commute or places like the shopping mall or a beach boardwalk. However, she emphasizes that by age 5 children should be able to follow basic instructions, like holding hands when crossing the street. She also suggests taking advantage of opportunities for children to gain autonomy and independence by exploring, something that a stroller may limit.
Dr. Shu adds that all parents should be transitioning their children out of a stroller by age 3 and warns to not read too much into manufacturer guidelines that may mislead parents into thinking children with the weight of an average 7-year-old are good to buckle up and get ready to ride:
“I think they’re trying to have an upper limit that will compensate for the largest three-year-old.”
“Parents need to realize that just because their kid can still fit in a stroller doesn’t mean they should be in one.”
With that said, I am learning to choose my battles. Potty training was a breeze in my household. And one day shortly after she turned two, my daughter put down the pacifier and never looked back. If I’m honest, it’s probably me who is more hesitant to put the stroller in park than my three-year-old. But like anything, as a parent you have to trust your gut and be patient with the person your child is growing to be while accepting their independence. As long as your toddler is getting at least 60 minutes of physical play and activity in a day, don’t feel bad for popping the trunk and pulling out the umbrella stroller so you can get some jogging in without having to drag your toddler behind you. As long as they’re not pulling up to their third-grade classroom in a Graco, you’re in good shape.
Toya Sharee is a sexual health expert who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.