As a mom of three, Terrie Malcolm has experienced pretty much every toddler phase—the good and the bad—at least once. The “hating the stroller” period—where a toddler just won’t stay in the stroller—is one she’s lived through three times. Her daughter Rebekkah was especially anti-stroller for a while. Strapped into a double model at a Canada Day event alongside her nine-month-old brother, Rebekkah wanted out so badly, “she actually tried to chew through her five-point harness,” Malcolm recalls.
Why your toddler won’t stay in the stroller
It’s fairly common for toddlers to freak out in the stroller—and it makes sense developmentally. “Toddlers are just starting to gain control of their bodies. They really want independence, and they want to explore and learn about the world around them,” says Tanis Shanks, a parent educator from the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute in Saskatoon. Put that together with a toddler’s natural state of pretty much non-stop action and movement, and it’s not surprising that stroller meltdowns happen. (Of course, it’s also important to check that the stroller isn’t pinching or otherwise causing discomfort.)
There are days, though, when strapping in just isn’t negotiable—maybe you’re zipping through an airport or doing daycare drop-off on foot or by public transit. For those times when you simply can’t let your toddler walk on their own and you don’t have the option of a carrier, try these strategies to take the stress out of strollers.
1. Use your words
It might sound a little airy-fairy, but empathizing with your kiddo can go a long way, says Shanks. Say, “I know you don’t want to sit in the stroller. You want to walk or run. But it’s time for you to get in the stroller so we can walk to daycare.” Malcolm and her husband, Pat, who are also the parents of 20-month-old Everlea, use silly songs and voices, crooning, “Sorry you have to be in there….” Toddlers don’t understand the concept of time, so instead of saying you’ll arrive in five minutes, point out something they can see, like, “When we get to that red building, then you can get out and walk.”
2. Distract, distract, distract
This is one of the golden rules of parenting a toddler, and it definitely applies to stroller time. Break out a special book or toy that is just for when they are buckled in and co-operating (it should be something that can be attached to the stroller so it doesn’t get tossed out). Tell stories, or play a game like I Spy. You can also buy a toy steering wheel so your little speed demon can “drive.” Sometimes the Malcolms will jokingly offer to get into the stroller so the kids can push, and the giggles are often enough to smooth over the fussing. “We’re also not above bribery,” says Malcolm, who will hand over a juice box or snack once they get in. (Note that snacking in the stroller can be dangerous if you aren’t keeping an eye on your child, since unattended eating is a choking hazard at this age.)
3. Change the ride
Borrow a friend’s jogging stroller to see if the different angle or height helps. Some stroller-hating toddlers are perfectly happy in a wagon—a number of models have an extra-long handle for adults to pull more easily, or you can lever the handle so you can push the wagon rather than pulling it. Pedal-less push bikes and tricycles can also be good options if it’s a slower or shorter walk, such as to the park. Many malls and amusement parks have specialized strollers or carts to borrow or rent. “My kids are happier to be in something that looks like a toy fire truck or dump truck,” says Malcolm. Or try a stroller board—also known as a buggy board, glider or ride-on board—which looks a bit like a skateboard and attaches behind the stroller’s rear wheels so your toddler can stand up while hanging on to the stroller’s handle. Many parents say these boards are absolute game-changers.
4. Get active beforehand
If you can, take five minutes before stroller time so your toddler can get the wiggles out by dancing or running around, or make a game out of reaching arms or waving feet while they’re in the stroller to release some energy, recommends Shanks. “We know toddlers need 180 minutes of activity a day, and 60 minutes of that should be pretty vigorous,” she says. “It’s also recommended that a toddler not be restrained in a stroller or car seat for more than an hour at a time, so take breaks.”
Above all, remember that this is just a normal stage of development, depending on how active and curious your toddler is. And while every parent of a toddler knows that sometimes just getting out of the house can be a marathon, try to give yourself extra time so you can get from A to B without anyone melting down—including you.