Here’s one thing kids want to do: the exact opposite of what you tell them. It’s probably why they drag their heels through “organized” running in gym class but sprint around the playground like banshee warriors. So the best way to get kids psyched about running is to make them think it was all their idea. Use that youthful energy and enthusiasm to foster a love of healthy activity.
Focus on progress and participation, not pace. Your kid may or may not be the next Kara Goucher, but the goal of early running should never be speed or distance. Every time she gets out there, consider it a victory and treat it as such. Whether you’re doing a jog-and-walk combination around the neighborhood, hitting a track or running on the field at the park, encourage your child to dial in to her breathing, the way her muscles feel, and keeping a steady rhythm. Let her set the distance and pace. The more she runs, the easier it will feel and the more fun it will be.
Get others involved. What kid doesn’t like playing with friends? If you can, team up with other parents and round up the neighborhood kids for running dates. You can organize relays, games of tag and other activities that make being active feel more like recess than homework.
Be positive about your own running. If you come home whining that you couldn’t hit your tempo pace and that running is the worst and you hate everything, your kid is going to pick up on your negative head space and apply it to running in general. We all have bad runs, but try to shake them off and leave them behind. Adopt an “any run is better than no run” mentality (unless you’re injured, in which case no run actually is better than any run).
Set a goal together. Find a local 5k, Color Run or family event to train for with your child. This will give you both something concrete to look forward to and provide extra motivation to get out the door. Keep the distance short and the pace casual, and encourage walking breaks when necessary. Make sure to celebrate completing the event!
Kids’ Safety Tips
An active kid is a happy kid, and there’s no better time to get outside and run around than in the summer. But long days in the sun, while great for soaking up that all-important vitamin D, not to mention making early bedtimes a breeze, come with their own set of risks. Here’s how to keep young runners safe in the warmer months.
Use sunscreen (duh). This is so obvious that it’s almost an insult to your intelligence, but it’s worth driving home because of its importance. Apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before outdoor play, and continue to apply every few hours, or more often if kids are playing around water or sweating a lot. New wristbands indicate when it’s time to put on more sunscreen – or get out of the sun entirely – by changing color. Sport sunscreens are designed to stay effective even through perspiration, but it still won’t hurt to be diligent about reapplying. Wide-brimmed hats and light long-sleeve shirts with UPF protection also help to shield kids from harmful UV rays.
Be shady. If you can, especially during the hottest portion of the day, try to run and play in shaded areas. This will help limit sun exposure and also keep kids cooler. Biking trails and towpaths are often tree covered; they also offer a safe place for running and other activities without the threat of traffic.
Hydrate. Whether they’re at soccer practice, going for a run or just playing games with friends, active kids should be drinking fluids both during exercise and throughout the day. Water is the best option, but fresh fruit will also provide fluids and nutrients, and low-sugar sports drinks are ideal for replacing electrolytes during high-intensity sessions. Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of dehydration to ensure your kids stay safe.
Communicate. Kids – especially when they’re involved in competition – won’t always vocalize pain, fatigue, hunger or thirst. They may not even recognize that they’re overexerting themselves until it’s too late. Keep an eye out for changes in mood, behavior, energy levels and physical appearance. Kids should also be encouraged to take plenty of breaks so they stay fresh and avoid burning out.
Girls on the Run
Since 1996, this Charlotte, North Carolina based organization has been striving to empower pre-adolescent girls. Molly Barker started the program with a crew of just 13 girls; it now includes over 168,000 participants and spans 225 cities in North America.
Who they are: A non-profit organization that uses interactive lessons and running games to encourage girls, build their confidence and promote a lifetime of health and fitness. Each small team of 8 to 20 members meets twice a week during the three-month season; at the end, the girls run a 5k as a celebration of all they’ve accomplished.
What they do: Using a 24-lesson curriculum, GOTR helps girls improve their inner strength and learn to define their own lives. Coaches use physical activity to build teamwork, instill an appreciation for fitness and encourage healthy habits. But running milestones are just the beginning; the program also focuses on mental, emotional and social development. By empowering every facet of their lives, GOTR teaches girls that they can change the world.
How they do it: Over the course of 12 weeks, the certified GOTR coaches teach life skills that include self-awareness, nurturing and maintaining healthy relationships, and learning to connect with the world at large. The teams also complete a local community service project to emphasize the strength that comes from helping others.
The tools: Each lesson is broken up into smaller parts.
A “Getting on Board” activity introduces the day’s topic, which could be positive self-talk, standing up to peer pressure, learning about community, etc.
The “Warm-Up” not only gets the girls ready for physical activity, it also looks a little deeper at the lesson of the day through an engaging game.
Next, a “Processing Q&A” session allows the girls to stretch while helping them relate the topic to their individual lives.
The “Workout” is the goal-oriented running portion of the program, which increases in length throughout the season. By the end of week eight, the girls will complete a practice 5k.
Finally, the session “Wrap-Up” gives the coaches a chance to acknowledge positive behavior, honor the team as a whole and select a recipient of the lesson’s “Energy Award.”
The final 5k: Some of these races are large, city-wide events and some are smaller gatherings with family and friends, but at the end of each season, every team celebrates with a non-competitive 5k.
Getting involved: There are many different ways to get involved with GOTR. If you have the time for a twice-a-week commitment, volunteer as a coach. Or sign up as a running buddy for the celebratory 5k; each buddy is matched with a girl from the team and completes the race with her. SoleMates raise money for Girls on the Run® while training for their own events.