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Kids and running

Tips to Get Kids Started With Running

By Stacey Feintuch

Created: 12/14/2016
Last Updated: 12/14/2016

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Do you love running and dream of going on a jog with your son or daughter? But how do you get your child into running? You want to do it the right way. You want to encourage—not push—your child to start and keep running.

Sure, a free water bottle or T-shirt from a local race may spark an interest. But that will only last so long. You want kids to discover that running isn't something that has a start and finish like being in elementary school. And they shouldn't feel pressured or expected to run. You also don't want them to commit to the sport only because you're a fan of it. If they get too serious, too soon, they'll only burn out or quit.

Get your child started with running the right way. Here are a few tips to help you nurture and cultivate a love of running in your child without pushing too much.

  1. Make running fun. It shouldn't be a punishment. Encourage kids to participate and try their best, all while having a good time. They'll likely continue running if they're having fun as they do it. And remember that for kids to have fun, you need to be having a good time yourself. So be sure to enjoy the moments spent with your child.
  2. Mix things up. You don't want your child to get bored. Run in different places to make runs unique, avoiding repeating the same run from the week before. Run on a track one day, grass another and a dirt trail the next. Go for a run early in the morning or in the evening. Do something unique like a scavenger hunt run around a park, a flashlight run or a pajama run.
  3. Set kids up for success. To do so, you must accommodate for differences. Realize that each child needs an individualized running program since kids mature differently emotionally and physically. Give kids opportunities to succeed at every step of the program. And be sure to praise their efforts and explain why they're doing a good job such as running at an even pace or taking a walking break when they're tired. One discouraging comment can make them not want to run anymore. 
  4. Work on technique. Kids should learn early on about proper breathing techniques and good form. Don't let them create bad habits such as twisting their upper body, overstriding or moving their arms excessively, says the Road Runners Club of America.  Offering her these tools will help her body adapt to running, hopefully without enduring any pain.
  5. Don't emphasize speed or distance. It doesn't matter who is the fastest or who runs the longest distance. Teach them that running is about being healthy, getting exercise and participating in the sport. Now is not the time for competition.
  6. Start small and slow. Begin with short distances and low speed, effort and frequency (days of the week). Increase things gradually, basing the schedule on what's right and works for your child.
  7. Create a goal. Set goals that are appropriate and achievable today. For example, see if she can run up and down the bleachers at the track an extra time during a run. Big goals like running in a 5K are far in the future, making them difficult for kids to visualize. And they can stress out kids, making them feel that they have to meet and fulfill lofty expectations. When they achieve a goal, recognize and congratulate them on a job well done.
  8. Expose them to other runners. Kids shouldn't just see you run. Let them see the bigger picture. Have kids volunteer at a local road race's water station. Sit in the stands at a track or cross country meet. Watching kids who are a little older than them run may help motivate them and enable them to see what they could do in a few years.