As parents of 3 children, and both my wife and I running, it was only a matter of time until our kids started to say that they wanted to run. For little ones, that means knowing when they should start and how to start them. Obvioisly, you dont want to discourage your child from ever running. Running is, I believe, one of the few activites in life where a child can start doing it early and continue running for the rest of their life. But atthe same time, if you push them too much, they will hate it and want to quit.My son Derek at age 2, wanting to go run with his sisters at the 2015 Elkhart County Fair Kids mile.
Before getting into what we did with our daughters, something to really keep in mind is that every child is different. Their body types are different and their attitudes towards running are different. Take our daughters as an example.
Chloe on the left, is 8 years old and Emma on the right, is 9 years old. These two really are quiet different when it comes to running. Chloe is built more solid . She isn’t overweight by any means but her frame is more solid (probably built more for soccer). Chloe also has shorter legs. Emma, on the other hand, is basically a stick. There really isn’t much meat on her (kind of like her dad growing up).
Besides their body types, their attitudes are different. Emma seems interested more in PRs, and Chloe is more interested in the social side of running. Even at the age of 8, she has her favorite runner friend that she likes to run with ever Tuesday night during summer runs (luckily, this other girl kind of has the same attitude towards running).
So with all that being said, how do you start your kids in running. Here is the general idea of what we did.
When we first started the girls, we kept it real simple. We encouraged them to run for 10 seconds and walk for 40-50 seconds. Some might be thinking, the focus should be on running more than walking. Remember, your kids who are just starting really don’t have much endurance. You have to build it up. We focused on our kids doing this for a mile. You may want to scale it back to a half mile. You decide, you know your kids better than I do. Also during the run portion, work with your child on pacing and not sprinting.
We would do these mile runs 2-3 times a week. Remember, you want them to enjoy running, not hate it. After a week of the 10 seconds of running and 40-50 seconds of walking, we added 5 seconds of running and subtracted 5 seconds of walking. Each week you add on another 5 seconds of running and take away 5 seconds of walking.
If you notice that this is too difficult or too easy for your child, tweak it to fit their abilities. If it’s too difficult, then maybe don’t adjust the walking and running times the next week. Once again, you know your child better than I do. Our two girls progressed differently, so we know that all kids are different. But soon, they will be running a mile without walking.
After you get your kids started in running comes the more difficult part, keeping them interested.
FOCUS ON PARTICIPATION AND IMPROVEMENT (This does not mean they should get a participation medal or ribbon every run , that’s a blog post for another day)
Encourage your child to participate, not winning. Keep track of what runs your kid has done and keep track of their times. Remember what their PR is. There is nothing wrong with pushing your child to do their best, but remember, just like you, they are not always going to PR on a given day. Remember, these are children and their mood and desire can change by the second.
Two years ago at the Blueberry Stomp in Plymouth, Indiana, I pushed Emma to run a kids mile even though she was saying she didn’t feel well. She finished the mile but whined and cried the whole way. As we found out later, turns out she had a double ear infection. Oops. Listen to your kids.
PARTICIPATE IN AGE APPROPREATE EVENTS
Keep to the kids races until you believe they can make it through a full 5k. The last thing you should do is discourage your child by pushing them to go further than they are ready for. Keep them in races with kids their own age. As I mentioned earlier, Chloe is more of a social runner. If she seeing her BRF (Best Running Friend) as my wife likes to call her, then Chloe can run the whole mile because she is doing it with her friends. If Chloe is running with either me or her mom, it’s a struggle.
We are lucky to have runs every Tuesday night in Goshen, IN during the summer called Reith Runs. They encourage runners of all ages to participate by having a 2k, 3k, and 5k. Our girls really enjoy Reith Runs and there quiet a few other kids out there running as well.
DISPLAY THEIR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Some races give out medals, or robins. Hang them where your kid will see them and will be proud of their accomplishments. We have hung up a dry erase board for each girl to hang up their bibs, write their PR times and hang their medals. As stated earlier, times are not everything, but they do get excited when they get to change their PR on the board.
This photo was taken over a year ago. There have been some changes in times and medals.
These are just a couple of ways that we have encouraged our daughters to run. Use what you want if you think it would work for your kids or come up with your own method.
As you saw in the video at the top, Derek wanted to run last summer. During Reith Runs, he would crawl out of the jogging stroller and start running, and then walk. This summer, we may ditch the jogging stroller at times. He won’t understand the run/walk intervals so we will just let him do his own thing. Some nights we may do quiet a bit of running, other days we may walk the whole 2k. No pressure on him.