I Bribed My 4-Year-Old to Stop Using a Stroller

Long ago, when I was a younger, much more naïve mom, I stared in disdain at parents pushing strollers stuffed with too old kids. By "too old," I mean the kids’ legs were so long, their sneakers nearly dragged along the sidewalk. “Isn’t that kid old enough to walk?” I’d opine to my husband, who’d agree with gusto. We vowed we’d stroller wean our daughter early. She'd walk everywhere!

Then, of course, our daughter grew ... then one day, soon after her 4th birthday, she was THAT kid, stuffed in our Maclaren, sneakers dragging on the sidewalk. What happened?

Turns out my problem has a name: “containerized kids.” And it’s a growing trend according to the expert who coined this term, Jane Clark, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland. Since birth, she argues, kids today are spending more and more time in car seats, high chairs, and strollers. Much of this is for safety, of course, yet Clark argues that these kids are suffering in that they’re not getting enough exercise.

Studies support Clark’s conclusions: Researchers at the University of Glasgow in Scotland tracked the movements of 3-year-olds for a week with a motion sensor clipped to their waistband. They found that the average toddler was active for only a mere 20 minutes a day, much less than the hour that pediatricians recommend.

Part of me wondered whether there was something "wrong" with my daughter for not wanting to walk. Was she anemic? Regressing? But eventually I chalked up her reluctance to walk to the fact that anyone, at any age, would prefer to hitch a ride -- my husband joked he'd enjoy an adult-size stroller. Still, it was clearly time to start stroller weaning our daughter. Only how?

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My husband, the “bad cop” in our family, advised me to just take her out without the stroller and keep walking. Even if our daughter threw a fit on the sidewalk, she would eventually pick herself up and run after me. Since that seemed too harsh for my tastes, I decided to try bribery instead, offering her a frozen yogurt every day she walked to and from preschool. That worked like a charm, although I worried the sweets negated the extra exercise she was now getting ... time to switch the bribe to Hello Kitty stickers?

We haven’t ditched the stroller entirely. Since we live in a city and don’t own a car, we often walk far and keep the stroller handy for these longer jaunts. But the first thing I noticed as soon as my daughter was walking more often was this: Man, she is slow. Which makes total sense -- her legs are a third the length of mine. Since I’m usually in a rush, my hands often itch for the stroller as she dawdles her way down the block. Still though: If my daughter isn't worth the wait, who is?

At what age did your kid stop using a stroller?


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