Running with kids is a dream for many runners, especially once they start their own families. Passing on the joy and love of running is one of the best things you can do for your children. However, the way in which you begin running with kids is key to avoid making them feel as if it is something they “have” to do.
What age can I start running with kids?
Unfortunately, there are very few formal, research-based guidelines that lay out when the ideal time is to begin running with kids. Just about every child, family and situation is different, so what works for one family might not work for another.
In general, once children are able to run on their own, it is safe to start running with them – as long as distance and intensity are modified to an age-appropriate level. Toddlers will likely only want to run a few strides, where as older children and pre-teens might be capable of finishing a youth race or even 5k.
If your child is showing an interest in running and is capable of doing so, it is probably safe to begin running with kids.
Road Runner’s Club of America has created some “Fundamentals of Youth Running”, which can be helpful when structuring your first few runs with your child.
Benefits of Running for Kids
Running is an incredibly beneficial activity for anyone, but especially children. There are numerous benefits of running for kids. Here are just a few of note.
- Promotes self-confidence
- Supports lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Can improve sleep quality
- Has been shown to increase bone density
- Helps improve concentration and academic performance
- Lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Encourages structure, routine, healthy habits and goal setting
The benefits of running with kids are so overwhelmingly positive that it might be tempting to dive right in. However, it’s important to start children running in a way that makes it fun and enjoyable to help them continue long-term.
How to Make Running with Kids Fun
In adolescence, running is often looked upon with dread. Physical education classes in school have a long-standing tradition of requiring a running test to measure fitness, which is usually not very appealing. Many children have no experience with the sport besides the required mile in school, which turns them away from willingly trying it in a social setting.
As runners, we know that running is so much more than a measure of our physical fitness. It provides opportunities to socialize, accomplish new goals, travel, boost our mood, increase our confidence, experience the fresh air, and so much more. It can do just the same for our children. Here are some ways to make running fun and engaging from an early age, long before races and goal setting becomes motivating.
- Begin with some running games
- Take your kids to new, exciting trails and areas
- Look for opportunities to socialize
- Sign up for fun runs or kid races
- Involve your kids in your own races and training
- Support them with a medal or special reward
- Join local programs or running clubs for kids
- Let your kids take the lead with training
- Follow your child’s interests and abilities
9 Tips for Running with Kids
Running with kids is such an exciting opportunity that most runners find themselves eager to dive right in as soon as possible. Involving your children and helping them find their own with the sport has so many benefits – here are a few tips to help get started as smoothly as possible.
Focus first on making it fun
Before diving in to any goals, races or structured training, first focus on making it fun. Follow your child’s interests, play games and let them run when and where they want.
Let your kids take the lead
When you’re first getting started, training should be dictated by the child. If your child doesn’t want to run, don’t force them. If they’re excited to go outside and run, take the opportunity and go – even if you hadn’t planned for it.
Mix up the training
Regardless of how content you might feel running the exact same neighborhood loop, it’s unlikely that your kids will. Run in the grass, at the track, through your neighborhood and on the trails. Play games, do drills and join clubs. Mix it up to keep your kids interested and engaged.
Travel to new areas
Running provides a wonderful opportunity to travel with your kids, or check out local neighborhood parks and trails. Take them to a new location to go for a run and then play at the park. Run through a grassy field before having a picnic, or take a drive to a nearby forest to run through the woods.
Fit them with running gear
We all know how important it is to invest in high quality running shoes and certain pieces of gear – and the same goes with our kids. Take them out to get fitted for running shoes or allow them to pick out a new running outfit for their next big race or training run.
Add in some games
As an adult, training consists mostly of structured runs with a bit of cross training. For children, however, a lot more variety is required. Instead of heading outside for a run every single time, try mixing it up with some running games for kids. These games get them moving, help find their natural stride and improve their fitness without them even realizing it.
Listen to your child
Perhaps most importantly, running with kids involves listening to your child. If it appears that your child is tired, worn out or otherwise bored, don’t force them to run. If they are telling you that they don’t want to or are wanting to stop mid-run – listen.
Allow them to set their own goals
Part of the fun of running for kids is setting new goals and watching their progress towards accomplishing them. Guide your children as they set their own goals and allow them to pick races or clubs that will be meaningful for them.
Get them some bling
If at all possible, take your child to a race or local fun run so they can earn their very own medal. Many races have short kids’ dashes or fun runs that allow them to earn their very own bling.
Running Drills for Kids
Most kids enjoy participating in the nitty gritty just like they see adults do – including drills and exercises. These running drills for kids are easy for even the littlest runners to complete. It will help improve their coordination, balance, confidence and gait before they even start running.
- Butt kicks
- Leg swings
- High knees
- Single leg hops
- Double leg hops
- Single leg balance
- One to two foot hops
Running Games for Kids
Starting your journey with some running games for kids is a great way to get children motivated and excited for the sport. These games get kids running in an unstructured way, which helps them develop confidence and get comfortable with their own natural running gait.
Red Light, Green Light
This running game for kids is great for all school-aged children. All kids start running on one side of the room or field, and on “green light” they begin running to the other side. Upon the call “red light”, all of the kids must stop and freeze where they are until “green light” is heard again.
A simple, classic playground game that is great for encouraging running with kids. Designate one person to be “it”, and when it is time to start, this person will have to chase everyone else until they can physically tag another to be “it”.
Follow My Lead
This running game is great for young, school-aged children and preschoolers. All the kids begin running or walking in a line, and the first person will call out or demonstrate a movement (skipping, hopping, etc). All of the kids will then begin doing this movement as they continue moving forward in a line. The first person will run to the end of the line and the next person in line will call out a new movement.
Simon Says can be a great way to get kids moving and running. Start out with one kid as the caller. This child will yell out a movement such as running, hopping, skipping, etc. If they begin by saying “Simon says”, all of the other kids should copy the movement. If they do not say “Simon says”, everyone should ignore the call.
Sharks and Minnows
A favorite running game for kids is Sharks and Minnows. Begin on one side of the room or field, with one or a couple of sharks in the middle. The goal is for all the kids to run to the other side without getting tagged. Those who are tagged then become sharks, until there is only one minnow left.
Running with kids is such a wonderful opportunity for all involved – the adults and the children. Getting your children excited about running is great for both their physical and mental health, and can help set up healthy habits for adolescence and adulthood.