When Bobby Thompson, 3, took his first ride on a "big kid" swing, "I told him to hold on really tightly and I pushed him very gently," says his mom, Colleen, of Colchester, CT. "Once he was steady and could handle the height, I gradually pushed him higher and higher." Afterward, Bobby declared there would be no more baby swings for him.
How do you know if your child's ready? Toddlers should use a bucket swing until they're about 3 years old, according to the National Program for Playground Safety, since big-kid swings require stability, balance, and coordination. "You should feel certain that your toddler's comfortable and understands to hold on before you push him -- even lightly," says Lisa Asta, M.D., a pediatrician in Walnut Creek, California. "If he's too scared, don't force it: Play should be fun, so just try it again another day."
No matter what kind of swing he's in, you can begin to teach him the basics of propelling himself. Show him how to grab and hold on to the ropes or chains, then how to pump his legs. "I stand in front of Bobby and tell him to kick out to me when he comes forward and bend his legs to the woods as he goes backward," says Colleen Thompson. "I tell him that's how the big kids in the neighborhood swing." Before you know it, he'll be one of them.