08/05/2012 05:59 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

These Feet Were Made For Walking: How Old Is Too Old For A Pushchair?

These feet were made for walking: How old is too old for a pushchair? Rex Features

When Gwen Stefani was snapped with her elder son Kingston in his pushchair earlier this month, it wasn't her trademark blonde hair or his extraordinarily jazzy trousers which caught the eye. Nope, it was the fact that Stefani Junior, who turns FIVE next week, was not using his legs and feet to get around.

Gwen isn't the only one strapping offspring who've been physically capable of walking for years into a buggy – word has it that the sight of reception-age children being pushed to school is getting increasingly common.

Now, as you might have noticed, I'm a parenting writer and it's my job not to get unnecessarily judgemental but I must admit this is one of a few things which sends me into a tailspin of irritation. You see, other than children with special needs (and I'm assuming young Kingston hasn't any or we'd have been kindly informed by the tabloid press), surely four and five-year-olds should be walking?


After all, pushchairs are a fairly recent invention, and still largely confined to use in the developed world. I don't imagine the five-year-olds of the plains of Africa get carted around in pushchairs – never mind their toddling siblings.


Nor did they in this country until recent years – beautiful as they are, parents were doubtless desperate to stop using those cumbersome Silver Cross 'perambulators' as soon as they could. Encouraging a child to walk was easier than propelling a tank-like contraption through the streets. And therein lies part of the reason for this prolonged pushchair use – there are so many light and easy to use buggies out there these days, that there's less incentive to stop using them.

Yet four-year-old legs (barring those with relevant medical conditions before anyone jumps down my throat), are presumably just as able to transport their owners several miles as they always have been, and faced with rising obesity rates, it's healthier to get kids walking.

It's all about expectations and maybe a little inconvenience as I found out a few years back when I turfed my own son out of his pushchair at the grand old age of 20 months. At first he complained, he whined and he whinged but with some gentle encouragement and a few silly games, within weeks he was happily trudging alongside me, even on quite decent-length walks.


Yes, he was a bit slow at times and needed chivvying along whenever he stopped to look at something tremendously interesting, such as a leaf, for a bit too long, but isn't that part and parcel of parenting a little person? It's hard but with a bit of extra time, and a dose of patience, it's doable.


If you think I'm sounding both smug about my own experience (and granted I didn't have a time-pressured three mile school run hike with older siblings on my hands at the time) and far too ranty about things which are none of my business, check out the indignant blog, set up by American Laura Miller. Featuring photos of older kids with bottoms squashed and squeezed into buggies far too compact and bijou for them, it's designed to poke fun at parents whose children should long ago have graduated to using their legs for transport.

Whilst, I'm a little uncomfortable at the idea of publicly outing innocent pushchair-using youngsters in this way and am also thinking this blogger lady clearly has a lot of time on her hands, she does have a point, albeit one that's oddly (or humorously depending on your perspective) conveyed.

In the interests of checking whether it's just me and Ms. Miller who feel strongly, I asked around among my mum friends. Some agreed with me and confessed to getting equally wound up by the sight of a kid so big their feet drag on the ground under their Maclaren, but several thought I should mind my own business, given everyone's circumstances are different.

Anne-Marie's view was typical here: "If you have more than one child you are basically heading into a military operation getting them out and to school, and how about the runners (never had a toddler that does a runner? Lucky you!) So, whilst I have my own opinions of an ideal case scenario I won't judge."

Another mum, Lyn, felt judged for using a buggy for her four-year-old. "Before I had my son, and when he was still a baby, I used to get ranty about parents who had kids older than three in buggies. I hated seeing four-year-olds in pushchairs. But then I discovered that it simply isn't that straightforward. There are a large number of reasons why older children still need them. In our case, my son has hypermobilia which can make him so tired that no day out or anything involving walking would be possible unless we had the pushchair."

"If we spent the entire day at the park, it really peeved me off that smug mums would say things like 'oh he was out of his buggy as soon as he turned two' before carrying their exhausted child to the car parked at the entrance to the park. I just don't think people should be judgemental about this (especially when most of them go five minutes down the road to the shops in their car)."

I thoroughly understand Lyn's points – it must be infuriating to face snide looks and comments from strangers who don't know that your child is using a pushchair because of a medical condition.

But for the rest of us, surely a buggy usage rule of thumb should be that two is fine, three could be (depending on your circumstances) and, well once they hit four, it's time to get listing that pushchair on eBay?

Liat Hughes Joshi is author of Raising Children: The Primary School Years.