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How to Break the Stroller Habit

You know your child is capable of walking, so why does she insist on riding in the stroller every time you want to take her out? It's not uncommon for preschoolers to get very attached to their cozy carriage, says James Jones, Ph.D., a child psychologist at Clarian Health Hospitals, in Indianapolis. "Kids feel secure in them," he says, "and enjoy the rhythmic motion of the ride."

Yet it's important that children get used to walking on their own. Strollers encourage dependence and deny toddlers a chance to exercise, build up stamina, and explore the world around them. If your preschooler is balking at walking:

STASH THE STROLLER

Instead of leaving it in view on the porch or in the entryway, put the stroller in a closet or the garage  -- if it's out of sight, your child will be less likely to think of it. Don't suddenly get rid of it for good, however. This may upset your child, and there will be times when you'll still need it  -- but for short journeys, there's no harm in making the stroller less available.

Driving to the mall or a park? Leave the stroller at home so you can't give her the option of riding in it once you're there.

PLAY UP THE POSITIVE

Spur her on by saying, "You're so grown up. You're such a good walker!"

And point out the perks of being a pedestrian. Denice Fellows, of Glendale, CA, motivated her 4-year-old daughter, Paisha, to walk to preschool by explaining that if she was strapped in a stroller, she couldn't pet the friendly neighborhood pooch that would come out to greet her in the morning. Within weeks, Paisha had given up the stroller for good.

BRING A BUDDY OR TWO

No child wants to be stuck sitting if her pals are mobile. Once she sees how much fun the other kids are having roaming free, she'll want to join in.

CHALLENGE HER TO A RACE

Before she even has a chance to ask for the stroller, say, "You know that tree (or rock or fence) down the street? I'll race you to it." Once you get to it, pick another landmark. Or have a contest for picking up treasures, such as pretty leaves along your path. Jones used this tactic to break his daughter, Katie, now 4, of the stroller habit last year. "By the time she realized she wasn't in the stroller, she'd already spent a big chunk of time out of it," he says.

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