Freedom is key
Let your child run throughout their day. When there are safe sidewalks, trails, or fields, let them surge ahead of you: exploring the environment and how they body moves.
Don’t force children to run at an even pace for long periods of time. I am jealous of children’s intuition of when to start and stop running. While in the mode of running, they will slow to a walk when the body signals a need for rest. Then once the pain has gone, they will dash off for the thrill of movement and discovery calls. There are times in our adult training that this technique is advantageous. Let children benefit from interval training and encourage them to listen to their body.
They will follow you. If you enjoy running, they will want to enjoy it too. That is if you encourage their curiosities. Let them bike along side of you and talk to them about their interests: growing your relationship. Before they are tired, stop by your house or car and encourage them to leave their bike for a super short run with you. I mean REALLY short run. Just wet their appetite. Go back to your house before they can get worn out. It is ALL ABOUT ENJOYING the movement of running.
Perseverance is a developed mature characteristic that needs experience as a background. Often parents will point out that their child doesn’t know how to pace themselves: slowing down so they can go for a long distance. It is important to remember that these are children, they have not developed the characteristics of patience and perseverance. When they mature, so will their running. Their sprinting is not wrong. It is good speed development, which is best built during childhood.
Patience as a parent will pay off in the long run. My oldest son did not run his first 5K race until he was 11 years old. After signing him up for the usual kid race, he asked why I had not signed him up for the 5K. “My friends have run a 5K. I can do it,” Sam proclaimed. After years of my patience, Sam chose the challenge of racing 3.1 miles. He ran the race by himself and was proud of his own accomplishment. At 14, he continues to enjoy runs throughout the week and has a healthy relationship with running. Most importantly he can use running to be physically and mentally healthy into his adult years. Let your child choose their challenges.
Here are two ways to put running into your family’s life.
TREE TO TREE
In a group of 2 or more, find a field, forest, or playground. Select a starting location (tree or another landmark) and gather as a group. The first runner runs to a different tree of their choice. They call out, “Go,” and the group races to the tree. Once everyone is joined back up at the new location, a different runner is sent off to find the next tree. This continues until everyone has been a tree selector and usually lasts several rounds. It is important that the tree selector has the freedom to select any tree they want, even if it is 10 feet away. Most will shoot for the farthest tree trying to out do the others. What is great about this game is that the race to the tree varies depending on the who is racing and the distance that is run.
Kids love relays, especially if there is some type of baton to pass off between their teammates. You only need two people to do a relay, so loosen up and count yourself as one. Create a course that goes over, under, or around obstacles. Keep mixing it up between rounds of races.
You can't make me! If you have a child that won’t run. They just look at you and shout, “No, I don’t like it.” Then start with walking. Build up their fitness with inquisitive walks. Then after a few weeks of walks, try a walk-run routine. A walk-run routine for you, not for the child: be the example. Start with 5 minutes of your usual inquisitive walking, then tell them that it is your time to start running. Only run for 30 seconds, then walk for 1 minute. Return back to them during the walk breaks and continue your conversation. They will get so curious about what you are doing and want to join in. The key is to not suggest or expect for them to join you, just accept their choice. Add in, “You are welcome to join my walk-run routine. I like to spend time with you.”
When children are done running, be done. Don’t push them into pain or boredom. They are not mentally strong enough to endure. Let them be a kid. A playful joyful, inquisitive kid.
Let them run