Is your toddler getting too big for his baby buggy? Try these six strategies for weaning your toddler from the stroller and encouraging him to walk.

Mamas & Papas Trek
Credit: Peter Ardito

A stroller may be a handy way to keep a child content while parents socialize, visit museums, or go for a run, but as children age, they outgrow wheeled assistance. And even if they love the stroller, a time will come when they will (and should) want to walk on their own. "As children develop more advanced thinking, language, and motor skills they naturally want to explore and make discoveries. Strollers certainly offer convenience and speed but it is wise to read your children's cues and encourage their development and independence. They will set the pace for the transition so be open to this new and exciting time," says Roni Leiderman, Ph.D., Dean of Mailman Segal Center for Human Development at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. If your child is getting too old for the stroller and you're thinking about giving it up, here are a few strategies for encouraging your toddler and preschooler to make an easier transition from sitting to walking.

Encourage Small Explorations

Consider parking the stroller for short periods of time during quick outings in your daily routine. On a trip to the library, leave the stroller in the car, and encourage your young walker to explore the children's area on foot. Visit the park, extending time out of the stroller with each visit. Places like the library, community centers, and family-friendly coffee shops often have an area for stroller parking, which is a convenient way to allow more time to free little legs from the buggy.

Make Moving Social

Kids will naturally move around when they're together, so arrange for your child to have active playdates at a park or playground with friends. They can climb and run while being supervised. Or try getting the family moving together on weekends or after dinner--take the dog around the block or garden in the backyard together. "Choose an activity that is fun and age-appropriate. Also, plan family activities such as walking and biking," says Len Saunders, author of Keeping Kids Fit. Slow your own gait so your child can keep the same pace as the rest of the family; he'll feel included and not pushed along. Once kids discover life out of a stroller means more movement for their whole body, not just their feet, you may find they add a dance move to their routine.

Let the Kids Steer

When kids take a turn at the wheel, it improves their mobility, exercises their fine motor skills, and increases self-confidence. "Try taking your child out of the stroller and placing her favorite stuffed animal in the seat. Then give the child the responsibility to push the stuffed animal. Not only is it getting your child out of the stroller, but she is now getting some exercise," Saunders says. Because some strollers can be too big and bulky for your child to push for a long time, doll strollers can be a great substitute. Early walkers can really pick up speed with a smaller doll stroller, though, so keep a watchful eye on your child.

Bring in a Backpack

Ease your transition into a stroller-free life by not relying on the stroller as a storage unit. Instead of keeping all of your child's portable items in the stroller, encourage independence and self-reliance by having your child carry her own small backpack or tote. Choose one in a lightweight material, with padded shoulder straps, and let your child carry items with little weight, like a petite stuffed animal or a baby blanket. You can still be in charge of bulkier items such as jackets, snacks, water bottles, and toys, but sharing the responsibility of carrying things can foster your child's pride in becoming a big kid.

Always Give Praise

Basic praise can go a long way. Every time your child is walking, be sure to notice, appreciate, and applaud his efforts. Detailed praise can be an effective way to promote behavior in a young child. Instead of simply noticing a child has been walking, share specific encouragement. For example, let him know how much you appreciate watching him walk on her own, all the way from the slide to the water fountain.

Provide Fun Distractions

Instead of focusing on the task of walking, make the experience more enjoyable for your child by asking him to point out different objects or colors, or sing a song together to pass the time. If you're at the market, allow your little one to pick small, lightweight items from the lower shelves. At the park, throw and retrieve balls, and in the backyard, plan a scavenger hunt or start a game of hide-and-seek. When you provide opportunities to walk throughout the day, your child will naturally become more active.

Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.