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So Your Kid Wants to Run… Ways to get them Involved

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As a parent and an avid runner, the moment your child starts taking his or her first steps, you have likely been planning out their running career. Daydreams of your little loves jogging along beside you on the trails and being the mom or dad fully decked out head to toe in your child’s cross country or track team colors have been playing in your head from the time you found out you were expecting a little bundle of joy! Getting your kids involved in running can be an excellent idea for many reasons. Running has a myriad of benefits for their health, gets them active and motivated and allows them to use their free time in a healthy way, and introduces them to a fantastic group of lifelong running buddies who they can grow up with. But there are a few things to consider before you sign your kids up for their first race.

How Early is Too Early?

While it is great and totally natural for kids to want to get outside to play, jump, and run around, there is a limit to just how much they should be running and putting their bodies under such physical conditions before they have fully developed their muscles and bones. Putting repeated stress on their little underdeveloped bodies too soon may lead to injuries in the long term, and in certain cases, may actually play a role in stunting their growth and development. While every child is different, and the rate at which their bodies mature is different, doctors suggest holding off on 5k and longer distances until they are at least ten years old. And the minute you start to see them exhibiting signs of too much physical stress and pain (outside of the typical soreness that simply comes with running), stop them immediately and make sure they take several days, weeks, or however long they need completely off from running.

Aside from the physical strain that running can impose on a young child’s body, there is a mental strain as well. First off, evaluate your motivation behind making them run. Are they running ONLY because you want them to? Even if they are extremely talented runners even at an early age, if you force them into it, you are likely to sever their positive relationship and experience with running altogether, potentially for life. Make sure they are running because THEY want to be running. And hold off on putting on the pressure to perform well until they have developed physically and mentally. As kids, participation in sports should be fun and teach them valuable lessons around sportsmanship, dedication, and hard work. But becoming too ‘cutthroat’ about sports typically leads kids to hate them in the long run, and opt out altogether, setting them up to miss out on what otherwise may have been a wonderful experience for them. Kids are kids – let them have fun with running!

What Should You Do to Help Keep them Motivated?

Just like doing well in school and making proper choices in any area of life, at some point your child is going to need some motivation to continue running. Before we go further, it is important to first step back and assess the situation: if your child genuinely hates the sport and does not want to continue it, you are probably best to step back and let them take up other things. But if he or she is really talented and you are sure they enjoy it but are having a brief moment of wanting to opt out (we get it… cross country meets on Saturday mornings that stop us from being able to sleep over at a friend’s Friday night birthday party absolutely SUCK) then you will have to find a way to keep them motivated to push on. Even if you know that, at the end of the season it will likely be time to hang it up, but are encouraging them to at least stick it out to the end of the season to instill that “don’t quit” attitude in them, you are definitely going to need some motivational techniques to see them through. First off, try not to bribe them. We’re parents and we have ALL done it… but bribing often leads to disordered relationships elsewhere (i.e. bribing kids with dessert but then never letting them eat it otherwise often leads to them associating dessert with performance, and it may turn into an adult habit if ‘rewarding’ themselves with dessert whenever they do something good, but leave them feeling guilty if they ever eat it simply because it is offered or during a special holiday or celebration). Remind them of their strength, and how running makes them strong. Help them find a group of great running friends that they can look forward to getting out and running with. One of the best ways to keep kids motivated is to add a ‘fun’ component. Celebrate the end of a long week of running with a family trip to the park. Invite kids on runs with you! One of the best ways to instill motivation in our children is to first and foremost BE that example of motivation. If they see you out running and racing despite fatigue, long days, bad weather, and busy schedules, they are likely to do the same.

Some Great Kid-Friendly Racing Ideas

After your child has been running for a bit, they are likely to express some interest in participating in a race. And while the marathon and half-marathon distances are probably just a tad bit too far for their little legs just yet, most races offer a shorter 5k option or 1-mile fun run for the youngest runners in your clan. Even better is that most of these races that are open to runners of all ages actually offer a discounted entrance fee for youths. Try to find fun themed 5k races (holiday races are excellent for this) to help with the aforementioned motivational component, or races that have fun stops along the race route, like bands and music, or races that have stellar post-race parties. One of the best things about races these days (at least in my opinion) is that race sponsors are moving away from the boring old metal, stale bagel, and half-a-banana post-race party favor too much bigger and better things. Your kids are sure to love a race that promises tasty chocolate desserts, a pizza party buffet, and games and activities at the end to continue to the fun. And don’t be scared to expose your kid to the wide world of obstacle racing that has so recently gained in popularity among runners and non-runners alike. Kid-friendly obstacle course races are sure to keep your child entertained and having a blast. But beware – once they do one, they will likely start begging you to sign them up for more!