Kids Riding on Parents' Shoulders

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Is carrying a child on your shoulders OK?

March 2010

One of the joys of parenting is the random unsolicited advice from people of a particular gender and life stage. I usually ignore it, but one person marched up and lectured me that carrying my child on my shoulders (her legs around my neck, her hands on top of my head, my hands holding her ankles) was terrible for her back. Web searches turn up, well, almost nothing about the topic on any level. Is there any real, professional opinion on this? Thanks! Rich

just make sure you have a smile on your face so others may not think you are suffering from elder abuse... and watch out for low hanging branches!!

happy dad of adults

As a chiropractor, I don't think carrying a child on your shoulders will hurt her back, unless you are doing it for many hours every day. It is a general rule that you should try to keep an arch in the low back, especially when bending (don't tuck pelvis, don't slouch), and in this position, she's unable to do that. But for short periods of time, it may actually be providing a good stretch, creating space between the lumbar vertebrae.

If you're going to worry about carrying her on your shoulders, worry about tripping, or about harming your own back and neck. Lifting and carrying toddlers is one of the more common causes of complaints that I see in my chiropractic practice.

I've never heard of back problems resulting from shoulder-carrying--except maybe your own! I have seen a small child fall from an adult's shoulders onto concrete. It has cured me of any desire to put my children or see other children up there. wary

Dear lord, do people have so little to do that they now feel free to approach a parent who is doing something as innocent as giving a ride to their child gasp on their shoulders! Wow. Tell them you will take it under consideration and walk away...


Hi There, I'm a physical therapist, and this is what I can make of it: you didn't write how old is your sun, but if he's able to sit independently already, there's no reason what so ever why that position should heart his back. it's not recommended to put babies in any kind of sitting position before they can do it independently. carrying a child on shoulder is a lot of fun, keep enjoying and don't let ''knowing all'' strangers upset you,

best regards, Shaga

Oh, don't be silly. It won't hurt her back. Yours maybe. She would only get hurt if she fell. I carried my son on my shoulders all the time. Keep your hands on her legs all the time, though. Once my son just threw himself straight back with no warning and ended up hanging upside down. If I hadn't been holding on with both hands, he'd have flung himself right off.

No one-handers after that.

I'm a pediatric RN and have seen several children suffer serious injury when they fell while being carried on a parent's shoulders. Two of the children suffered head injuries that were fatal.

Obviously, incidents like these are rare, but since this topic was raised, I'll add my two are wiggly, and accidents happen.

Pediatric Nurse

Nervous about my child riding on dad's shoulders

Oct 2006

Hello, I would like the opinions of other parents regarding allowing kids to ride on dad's shoulders. My husband insists on doing it, and I don't like it. He does it on crowded city streets, in malls, at the park etc...; It makes me nervous and upset whenever he does it and I've heard of kids being hurt and worse from it. The way I see it, all he has to do it trip or have someone bump into him and we have a potentially terrible accident. Basically, I think it is foolish and unnecessary and why do it? On the other hand, he sees nothing wrong and plans to continue as long as the kid likes it and is small enough. Anyway, I would like to know how other parents feel about this. Thanks! nervous mom

Life is dangerous, a little risk makes life exciting. If the dad is strong enough and not clumsy then let him have a little fun. Maybe say something like: ''watch for low hanging branches.'' Please don't make him feel bad for doing it, unless you want a divorce. There are way more dangerous situations and we all need a little excitement in our lives. concerned dad of teens

When my daughter was one, she was being carried on my husband's shoulders when he was walking on an uneven gravel pathway. He slipped, she started to slip, he grabbed tighter onto one leg, and it snapped. She was in a cast for about a month and, fortunately, has no permanent damage to that leg. But he never carried her on his shoulders again and, when we've been in a position to, we've warned other parents about the dangers of doing this. There are so many different ways things can go wrong (another example -- I've seen parents accidentally bump their child's head because they didn't realize their clearance level with doorways changed). I understand your husband's cavalier attitude because mine was the same way before the accident and he was battling my worrywart mentality, but he has since changed his thinking. I hope this helps. anonymous

I think this is not something to worry about. I think there are dozens of ways that are much more likely for a kid to get hurt than falling off of dad's shoulders. I'll bet riding in a car is actually more dangerous, in terms of the probability of having an injury-producing accident. Think of it this way: they won't ever dart out into a street, or wander off and get lost, or pick up something and stick it into their mouths -- or all kinds of other things you don't want your kids doing. My husband keeps a good grip on my son's lower legs, and my son knows the rules: no hands over dad's eyes or ears, no squirming around or trying to stand up -- in fact, he usually keeps his hands on top of dad's hands or shoulders -- and the whole arrangement seems fine to me Karen

I have to admit that I rolled my eyes when I read your email. Let your kids have some fun and relax a bit! It seems like dad is enjoying it and the kids are as well and unless your husband has difficulty walking and is prone to tripping, then I would relax a bit. I am assuming that he is holding their ankles so that they don't fall down, but if not, then I would expect him to do that for safety. Of all the things to worry about in this world and the safety of your children, this one seems just silly and I think our society has gotten so over-protective of kids that we forget that they are just kids and need to have some fun and get their knees dirty sometimes. Relaxed mom of a happy and safe child

Hmm, I always liked having the kids ride on Daddy's shoulders. That way I knew exactly where they were! My children are now too big to ride on shoulders any more, but in all the years that they did so, my husband never tripped or dropped them. But we did loose track of a child in crowded situations twice! So I honestly don't think it's a safety problem, I wouldn't worry about it too much. mama of 2 now-big kids

We used to carry our son on our shoulders a lot. (After all, a child walking in a crowd or running around in a park or mall can get into plenty of trouble too; frequently it's more safe to carry him.) But we hardly ever carry our daughter that way -- because just in the few years between their respective births, there has been an explosion in the variety and quality of widely available back carriers! Now we use our mei tais and Ergo carrier everywhere and wear one or both children on our backs.

Get your husband an Ergo. It can safely carry children up to 60 lbs. He can give the kids a ''piggyback'' ride that is VERY easy and secure, and much more comfortable for him than the shoulders, too. Holly

My husband once ''dropped'' our 2 y.o. on asphalt while he was carrying him on his shoulders. We ended up at the E.R. Our son was fine. Nontheless to say that no longer did he do it. Maybe your husband might consider a baby carrier or hold child in his arms instead. m

What is the world coming to when Dads can't carry kids on their shoulders? Dads do things that freak out moms sometimes but kids love it. Actually I carry my child on my shoulders sometimes and I am a mom. Duck we're going through the door.

As someone who has bouts of sometimes debilitating anxiety, I think I hear something similar here. I know the anxiety is so real and so very compelling, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's warranted. Kids ride on their parents' shoulders all the time. Why do it? It's fun, it's exciting, it's intimate, it's easy on the parent's body - there are a lot of reasons to do it, especially in crowds! Are there risks? Honestly, I've never heard even the slightest whisper of a warning against shoulder- rides. Of course, take care - hold the child's legs or support its back if it's very young, but I'd be shocked to find that this is inherently more dangerous that carrying a child in your arms, or letting a small child walk in a big crowd by itself. I'd like to gently suggest you look into anxiety management strategies or medication. I did, and I got a lot of relief, and my relationships with others improved since I wasn't so consumed with worries and so anxious to change their behavior. Good luck with it. a fellow anxious mom, but a shoulder-ride-giver!

My kids ride on my husband's shoulders (and to a lesser extent mine) all of the time. I am 38 now and still have happy memories of riding on my own father's shoulders oh so many years ago. The joy that it brought me appears to be the same joy it brings my own children.

Your fears are valid ones. But, quite frankly, so many things that my children do every day possess some element of danger -- climbing up the ladder to the slide, swinging on swings, etc.

Additionally, in some of the situations your bring up -- walking along a crowded sidewalk -- I would rather have my child under better control than just holding hands as they can let go at any time and lord knows what would happen to them next -just my two cents

How wonderful that your husband wants to be with the children and carry them around in a traditional way that he himself may once have been carried by a loving father (?) or friend.

In your situation I would probably own my anxiety, and then decide whether it is so pronounced that I actually can't be around my husband when he carries the kids on his shoulders. If so, I'd ask him not to do it when I was around... and try to accept that, while bad things DO happen... sometimes they don't happen, too... if your husband and child are o.k. with this, please try to be brave and let them. Good luck! Heather

Not a big deal in my opinion. Never heard of or had any problems with shoulder riding. Kids love it too - Mom of 3 shoulder riders

Hi, just my 2 cents on this, as the mom of a 12-yr-old and a 6-year- old. I've given my kids a ton of shoulder rides and we've never had any problems. Kids love shoulder rides. Really, unless your children's dad has a history of fainting, I don't think there is any risk to your children. I still remember riding on my dad's shoulders and swimming on his back, and I think for kids, riding on mom's or dad's (or any other caregiver's) shoulders is fun and safe. I know a lot of parents, and I've really never heard of kids getting hurt from riding on an adult's shoulders.

I really hope you can get to the point of feeling OK about the kids riding on their dad's shoulders sara russell

Both my husband & I have always carried/walked/run/galloped our kids on our shoulders from the earliest time it seemed physically appropriate for them. Our kids are now 3.5 yrs & 2 yrs. I find that carring on shoulders to be a very nice & fun bonding time allowing me to touch & talk with my kids. Also, I believe that having the kids generally out of a stoller encourages them to explore the world more. (We hardly used a stroller, but mostly used a sling, then a backpack until the kids were able to walk.) Now our kids either walk or are on shoulders. I've never thought that it might be as of a safety concern as you seem to feel it is. I've never heard of any child being injured by being carried on a parents shoulders.

We've never had a trip or an almost trip, but we do have to be careful not to bonk a head which I think is the real safety concern over falling. So, I don't think it's a real great safety issue. Moreover, I think riding on shoulders provides great bonding time & simply being out of a stroller encourages kids to explore. With all that being said, the fact of the matter is, if it drives you crazy because you really think your child could get hurt, your husband should NOT do it (at least while you're around.) Debbie

In my opinion, it is very important for kids to play this way - and especially w/ their dad. So what if there might be a smidgeon of risk. I'd bet that every time you put your child in your car, it is much more risky, statistically speaking, than this.

I broke my arm on the monkey bars, my sister on a tricycle, and I know of 3 adults who have broken bones merely by walking around & stepping off curbs. Just because there is possible way for someone to get hurt doesn't mean one should stop ''play'' and having innocent fun.

Dad'll know to be extra careful w/ such a precious burden on his shoulders, believe me. anon

I'm a dad who loves to put his daughter up on his shoulders. She enjoys being taller than me and constantly points out that she is. In terms of being dangerous, I think it depends on the child. My daughter doesn't always like to hold hands, though she's pretty good about it. On a crowded city street anyone that would bump into me would definitely bump into her, I think that she's more at risk getting trampled or inadverdently pushed into the street.

With her on my shoulders, I don't have to convince her of why the way we're going is the best way, or to hurry up or slow down. It makes a long trek through a busy parking lot into a quick, no fuss, super fun part of the trip, and I think safer too. happy rider dad

I put my kids on my shoulders quite often. As a mom of 3 under 7, I find it much easier to put my toddler on my shoulders than carry him in my arms, when I'm walking quite a long way, or need to hold my 4 year old's hand. I often use a stroller, but when I don't, my son is easy to carry on my shoulders. I think it's safe, as long as I always hold his feet with my hand(s). (I don't think it's safe to depend on the child to hold on--the parent must ALWAYS be holding the child's feet) Heidi

I was very disappointed with the tones of the many responses to this mom's totally valid concern. She is not being overly anxious; she's being smart. Her husband should respect his wife's concern and be grateful for her common sense. Have any of you ever interacted with a child with a head injury? Probably not. Sorry to be a spoilsport, but unless it's absolutely necessary, it's really stupid to do this. Is it fun for many kids and their parents? Yes. Intimate? Yes, but if you do not really, really need to do it, why take this risk? My Dad took me for shoulder rides when I was little, but it is no where near the top of my list for significant, meaningful memories. My #1 fondest memory: Dad reading to me before tucking me into bed. Yes, life is dangerous and risky, and it sucks to be cautious sometimes, but you are a parent. Anon

I can empathize with your worries. It's so hard to love some one so much and accept that something we have no control over could injur them, or take them from us. But, that is life: it's risky and dangerous. Being over-protective of our children is actually damaging to them in a different way: emotionally and psychologically. I know, I have good friends who have tremendous emotional problems as a result of their parents over-protectiveness.

As difficult as it is, it is EXTREMELY important to allow your children to take those risks, those steps toward independence. So, let them climb those trees, ride daddy's shoulders, put on roller-skates, and experience the joy and excitement of stretching themselves and learning what they are (and are not) capable of. Alesia

I carry my daughter on my shoulders all the time. And I'm Mom. My daughter loves it, and I find it actually more stable than carrying her in my arms. Plus I can do it for longer. It's especially good for crowds, as she doesnt' have to get bumped. I have never fallen with her on my shoulders, but I have fallen a couple of times while carrying her in my arms. Maybe this is because I'm more careful or more stable when she's on my shoulders, or maybe it's because of random chance... I'm never completely certain what happened when I did fall (bad ankles?), but it has absolutely nothing to do with whether she's on my shoulders. In other words, I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. Maybe there's some other reason that this bugs you, or maybe you need to learn to relax a little. I'd also add that one thing I loved more than anything as a kid was riding on dad's shoulders myself, and it was something that didn't last as long as I would have liked it... I probably would have been up on his shoulders as a teenager if he would have allowed it! janet

Hi, I am sure most people wouldn't worry about this - but I had a very bad experience with my husband's father tripping over a raised paving stone in the sidewalk...and dropping my three- year-old on her head. It is an absolute miracle that she was, I think, undamaged apart from bruising. It's the kind of thing you can't know for sure, with brain effects at so young an age, if the child seems normal? She certainly seemed to have no lasting effect anyway.

This was a Grandpa, not a Dad, and he was getting slightly less steady, although only age fifty at the time - but I should never have let her ride his shoulders, and never will again. Yet my older son carries my child on his shoulders, and I trust him - he is far more athletic.

This kind of play is so great for the child - but I would be careful to think about who is doing it. Anon