Running with a baby in a stroller and running with a toddler in the stroller are two different ball games. Any mother runner will tell you that. When running with a baby in a stroller, you make sure they are fed and you run at nap time. When they get older, the question becomes: how to keep your toddler entertained in the stroller so you can RUN with the stroller?
My first-born Eleanor started walking at nine months. NINE MONTHS!! And, you bet, as soon as she started walking, our stroller runs became very boring to her. She wanted to be on the move! So many of our stroller runs ended with her contorting her body to twist out of the harness.
So, I had to up my stroller game to keep her entertained in the stroller. Ways to keep her happy involved playing into her desire for independence, novelty, and stops.
There’s so much to cover when it comes to stroller running, so head over to my stroller running guide for complete info. My fellow mother runners and running coaches Lisa at Mile by Mile and Laura at Laura Norris Running also provide additional stroller running tips.
Specifically for this article alone, I am focusing on how to keep your toddler happy in the stroller.
First, some stroller running basics:
Why won’t my child stay in the stroller?
Once children begin walking, they enter their stage of independence. They want to practice this new skill of walking and they want to explore and learn new things. This is all good. And, being confined to a stroller keeps them from doing this.
So, to keep your toddler happy in the stroller, you need to play into this growing developmental stage. You need to allow them time to move and explore. Allow them to get out and run with you, or stop halfway at a park, or use this time to point out flowers and search for animals. Use it as an opportunity for discovery for them. Perhaps even call it your adventure rather than a stroller ride or stroller run.
Related: Best Jogging Strollers on the Market
Why does my kid hate the stroller?
Kids act like they hate the stroller because they are bored. As your children get older, they need more stimulation, so it is up to you to help keep them entertained. This can be with stroller-only toys or interesting pit stops along the way.
What is too old for riding in a stroller?
Your child will let you know that they are too old for the stroller ride by their continued disinterest, size, or ability to do other things like ride a bike. However, most doctors agree that around 3-years-old is when kids should stop riding in a stroller. At this point, you can segue into having your child ride a bike next to you while you run.
You can start stroller runs around 6 months in age.
How long can I run with a stroller?
Your child will let you know when they are done with stroller runs. Most moms keep their stroller runs between 30 minutes to an hour. Some are able to do longer stroller runs but time it during nap time. Every child is going to be different when it comes to their tolerance for stroller runs.
How much slower is running with a stroller?
You will run about one minute slower per mile when running with a stroller. Aim to run by time and effort rather than pace and distance when running with a stroller. Remember that you burn more calories running with a stroller.
Is it harder running with a stroller?
Studies show that running with a stroller is harder than running without one. You also burn more calories per mile when running with a stroller due to the added resistance. So, don’t feel like you didn’t get a good workout because you didn’t hit your goal mileage. You may have actually worked harder!
9 Ways to Keep Your Toddler Entertained in the Stroller
Frame it as an adventure.
It’s all in the way you say it. If you say you’re going on a stroller run, that may not sound super exciting to your two-year-old who just wants to run around and get into things. So, talk about your stroller run as a fun adventure for the two of you. What will you see? Where will you go? It’s important for the two of you to view it as a special time together rather than a box you need to check for the day.
Give them control.
A huge reason why toddlers don’t want to sit in the stroller is that they want independence. Being strapped down and having no say in where they are going, when, and for how long obviously robs them of this independence. So give them lots of choices on what snack they get to have, where you get to go, what stop you will make, what games you will play. Maybe even let them choose your running outfit or shoes! If they feel like they have a say in the matter, they will be likely to be interested in going.
Take pit stops.
Speaking of stops, take breaks along your adventure. Stop at a playground halfway through or go explore a new park. I liked to end at a bakery near our house and allow Eleanor to get a muffin to munch on the way home. There was a time when she was really into walking on “balance beams” so we ran looking for rock walls and curbs she could get out and walk on. A friend of mine would run searching for construction sites for her truck-obsessed son to ogle at.
Play lots of games.
There are so many games you can play while running with the stroller to keep your toddler happy. Go on a scavenger hunt. Hunt for squirrels or other animals. See how many people you can wave to. Play “I Spy”. Look for cars in every color of the rainbow.
Let them lead the way.
Going back to independence, your toddler will love calling the shots and tell in you which way to turn. So let them be your guide. Let them tell you to turn right, left, go straight, go to the park, head to the river, wherever (within reason). And then, let them try to find the way home! (Also, make sure you don’t get lost!)
Have special stroller-only toys and snacks.
Many mother runners like to have special toys and snacks that are only allowed in the stroller. This adds an extra bit of novelty to the special stroller time. Maybe that’s a popsicle or lollipop. Maybe it’s even an iPad if you just can’t get them into enjoying the journey and fresh air.
Have a singalong.
Nothing ensures you’re running easy than singing the Encanto or Frozen soundtrack while pushing the stroller. Have fun with your kiddos on the run while blasting music and having a mini dance party. You can make a playlist for them in your phone and let them be the DJ. Make sure you have a good case on your phone in case it gets dropped or have them use their protected tablet.
Let them run home with you.
Since the main reason why kids don’t like riding in the stroller is that they want to MOVE, let them! Let them run the last half mile or so with you as part of a reward for allowing you to take care of yourself and run.
You may disagree but I believe there is no shame in bribery. In fact, there is a lot of power in it. And, instead of bribery, let’s call it a REWARD system. Reward your toddler for sitting in the stroller by taking a special trip to the donut shop, letting them play with Mr. Bubbles in the bath, or watch an extra episode of their favorite show (perhaps while you shower). Or, you can keep a treasure box and let them take a trip to it when you get home.
While you’re running, you can always talk to your toddler about the importance of exercise and being in nature. This sets the stage for making healthy choices as they get older.
And, if they really just don’t enjoy riding in the stroller, do not force it. This is supposed to be an enjoyable experience for both of you. If they can’t articulate what they don’t like about riding in the stroller and/or you can’t address it, it’s time to move on. Consider other options to running such as morning runs, purchasing a treadmill, or hiring a sitter.
If you would like help towards your goals, check out my run coaching services.