Before I had kids, I would often hear stories of the dreaded “little league dads” or “dance moms” who would go over the edge when it came to their children and athletics. You know the type of parents I’m talking about: the ones who would be yelling at referees, pushing their kids to train for a sport far harder than any little kid should train, or simply forcing their kid to participate in an activity that the kid highly disliked, but the parent wanted them to do anyway.
I vowed I would never be one of those parents.
Then I became a mom and simultaneously discovered my love for running.
I loved running so much that of course I wanted to share it with everyone in my life…and my kids were no exception. As soon as my oldest son could toddle, I wanted to enter him in tot trots and start building his own collection of finishers medals.
He, on the other hand, wasn’t as thrilled about the idea of running as I was. In fact, at his first official race, he protested the entire time. He screamed as we tried to pin his race bib on him and then tried to rip the bib off of his shirt. He cried as we lined him up with his fellow tots at the starting line, refused to move when the starting whistle blew, and then sat down in the field halfway through his 100-meter dash, declaring his race over.
The other kids seemed happy to run as fast as their little feet could take them from the start to the finish line, but my kid made it perfectly clear that he was not as big of a fan of running as his mother was.
At least, not yet.
I learned very quickly that afternoon that you simply cannot push your love of a sport onto your child. Since that fateful day, however, I have also learned that there are a number of things you can do to encourage your kids to have a happy, healthy relationship with running. And nine years later, I am the proud mom of two little runners who seem to love running as much as I do…on their own terms.
Here are my running mom tips:
1) Lead by example. Your kids are watching EVERYTHING you do. Setting a positive example of your love for running will give your kids a healthy outlook on the sport of running. They will view running as a normal, fun activity rather than some sort of punishment or insufferable weight loss method. Plus, seeing how much you enjoy running may encourage them to give the sport a try for themselves. After all, what little kid doesn’t want to emulate their parents?
2) Start them slow. Just like any new runners, kids need to start off with short distances so their little bodies can adapt to the stressors of running. Start with age-appropriate distances. Although running is a completely natural activity for kids (they do it on their own all the time), if you have any concerns please consult with your child’s pediatrician before taking them running.
3) Make it fun. As mentioned already, kids run every day, on their own. Just head to your local playground and you’ll see kids sprinting during a game of tag or simply running from one side of the playground to the other to see who can get to the swings first. With this in mind, you can introduce your kids to running longer distances by teaching them fun running games. Things like relay races or “animal tag” will encourage young runners while keeping and holding their attention.
4) Teach them about pacing. Little kids have two paces: lightning fast and walking. Once your child is interested in running longer distances (more than a minute or so, for most kids!) you will need to teach them about pacing. Let them know that starting slow many not feel as fun at first, but it will allow them to run farther before they get tired. This will make running for longer durations more enjoyable for your child.
5) Encourage—never discourage. Never make running a punishment, and never speak condescendingly to your kids about their running. Things like “come on, your sister can do it, you can too!” may seem encouraging to you, but might discourage your little runner from building a healthy relationship with running. Instead, encourage and celebrate their strengths, and be understanding of the days they simply may not feel like running.
6) Ensure they have the proper gear. You don’t need to buy your kid an entire new wardrobe from some designer athletic apparel line, but you do want to make sure they have comfortable athletic gear. Sweat-wicking, lightweight clothing just like you would wear can be bought at most major department and big box stores in little kid sizes. Provide comfortable sneakers that will help encourage the natural movement of their little feet.
7) Water and fuel: Make sure your kids are taking in enough extra calories and extra water to compensate for their caloric expenditure and sweat loss. Encourage them to “fuel” their bodies with these healthy foods and water!
8) Be accepting of their desire to run…or lack thereof. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you encourage, some kids may have absolutely zero desire to run. And that is okay. Instead, encourage healthy movement and exercise through other physical activities or sports that pique their interest. Don’t give up hope; they may come around and enjoy running one day.