Ideally your kids would share your passion for running and simply come along. But not all kids get excited, when we ask them to join us for a run. How can we get our kids on board for running, without pushing them?
Be an encouraging role model
In a society where childhood obesity has become very high, getting the kids outside to be active is important. Be a good role model and have an active lifestyle. Kids who see their parents exercising tend to be more physically active themselves. Showing them your love for running, will make them curious! This may encourage -not push- your child to start and keep running.
Plan a run together
Kids love structure. Putting up a family planner can be helpful. It tells them when it is time for their responsibilities such as school and household chores, but also shows them when to practice sports. Simply plan a run together to let them experience what it is like!
How to cultivate a love of running in your child
Nowadays most kids have the opportunity to choose from many sports and activities. Let them try a jog with you (make it fun), let them experience first, and then choose. They should not feel pressured or expected to run only because you’re a fan of it. If the running gets too serious, too soon, they’ll only burn out and most likely quit.
Check out the next 7 tips to help you encourage your kids to run, without pushing them too much:
1. Reward the effort
Sometimes kids need a little external motivation. Instead of rewarding their achievements, praise their efforts! One discouraging comment can make them not want to run anymore. As a reward for trying their best, you could promise them to do something else with them afterward, like a board game, arts & crafts or watch a show or film together. Or you could promise them to make them a fruit-smoothy after the run. That’s a healthy post-run snack and most kids love them.
2. Set appropriate goals
The key is to run for fun! Otherwise you may be setting your child up for failure or an injury. Help your kids to set achievable running goals that are appropriate for their age. Especially younger children shouldn’t be pushed to their limits. But it is important for them to know why they do something and what they are aiming for. Make sure they can visualise the running distance that they are supposed to run, as they may have no clue how far 3 km is. For example: “Today, we’ll run from where we stand here – to the parking lot that you know, which is located two streets away around the corner”.
3. Make progress visible and set new goals regularly
Achieving their goal will give them a sense of accomplishment and it will keep them motivated to run again next time. You could keep a mileage log and activity tracker that adds up all smaller bits of physical activities until your child has reached a full marathon. Stick it up the wall or your fridge to show the progress towards the marathon finish line. If you have more children, they could even do a marathon (activity) race!
Once they are getting more enthusiastic about running and when they are progressing, you could help them set more advanced running goals. Make sure the goals are realistic given their fitness level and physical strength. It could be running an extra lap each week or finishing a 5km distance. Most importantly: build up slowly and don’t aim too high.
4. Running competition – or not?
When your child is just starting to run, don’t emphasise speed or distance at all. It doesn’t matter who is the fastest or who runs the longest distance. Teach them that running is about staying healthy by being active and enjoying being outdoors together.
When they are getting more into running, you could start thinking about some friendly competition. Organise a race among family members or friends with fun prices to be won. For example medals for each finisher, a cap for the runner with the coolest outfit, shower gel for the racer with the best personal record, etc.
Signing up for a (virtual) family park run together is also great when kids get a bit more experienced in running. A big hit among kids is the color fun run. Being part of a “real” race is encouraging and fun!
5. Invite kids running buddies
If you’re planning on participating in a kids or family race, ask your child to invite a friend to join too. Running together with a running buddy is much more fun than running alone.
Teenagers or older children could also join youth running groups on their social media, such as Facebook or Instagram. It will keep them informed about local park runs and races. And they could share their running achievements with their friends. Positive feedback from their social network can create a sense of pride.
6. Keep it fun and mix things up!
Keep the mood light and regularly change duration and intensity. Also vary your running locations. Doing the same round in your neighbourhood will make things boring. Instead, expose your kids to a nice forest trails or a running track. If you have a treadmill at home, kids could do a run while watching their favorite show on a TV or tablet.
7. Kids running gear
If your children have gotten really excited about running, you may consider getting them proper running gear.
Most important are good running shoes, to avoid injuries. Don’t get too distracted by the fancy built-in flashing lights or superheroes images. Finding the right running shoes for your kids is most important. Shoes that offer support where it is needed. The best way is a visit to a decent athletic footwear store, where they can measure your children’s feet and find them the perfect fit.
When running becomes your child’s major sport, you might consider buying them more advanced runners clothing as well. Most runners brands offer a wide range of products with specific features such as weatherproof and moist wicking.
A fitness tracker can offer a creative solution to get the younger generation moving, by making counting steps feel like a fun game.
Make running sessions FUN
To keep kids excited about the sport, it’s crucial to add as much fun to their training sessions as possible. Once the kids have learned to truly enjoy running, they will develop their internal motivation to continue. Teenagers could consider more serious running training and join a runners club.
Kids running games & activities
Younger children may need to be challenged to stay focused and motivated. Instead of “just running”, consider to do fun running games that make them run longer distances or push their pace. Some games will need some preparation time for you as their running coach, but it will be worth the effort.
For great kids running games, fun warm-ups, stretching and cool-down and many free printable resources, please check out the Marathon Kids website.
Enjoy running together
Running together with kids will give you the opportunity to share some special quality time. Of course a jog with your kids isn’t the same as a training session at your regular pace. Between the several bathroom breaks and snack stops, you’re definitely not going to set a new personal record. You will need to adjust the type and intensity of the training to your kids’ fitness level. And to keep them motivated, you’ll need to be creative and add some fun elements to it. But if you are willing to put in the extra time and effort, your kids might become runners for life! I wish you and your child(ren) to enjoy many nice runs together.
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