Kids are perpetual motion machines. Why not harness some of that energy and help them enjoy and develop in a sport they can enjoy for a lifetime? Children from kindergarten to third grade are at an excellent stage to interest in running.

Make It Fun!

As you work with your child, the first three things to remember are:

  • Make it fun
  • Make it fun
  • Make it fun

All the rest are just details. If your kids are intimidated, overwhelmed or routinely criticized, they will learn to hate running. Make them feel like a loser and you will lose their interest and commitment.

Make every run a fun run when you are out with your child. This is not the age for drills or warm-ups. That’s great when they make the high school track team. Right now, it needs to be just another form of play.

Tailor It to Their Abilities

Make the early runs very short, even 100 yards. Slowly build up to a quarter of a mile. Take into consideration your child’s physical stamina when deciding on a distance.  Long distance and endurance are not suitable for young children.

Downtime is extremely important for young runners. Be sure to include plenty of rest intervals. Let your child run two or three days a week. More than that and they will get overwhelmed.

Set gentle goals at a rate of about one a month. For example, let them finish an age- and ability-appropriate Turkey Trot in November. Build in success by making sure each goal is reachable.

Keep It Interesting

The very best way to keep them interested in running is to run with them. Your child feels special when he gets to share time with mom and dad. Nothing makes her feel more special than doing a grown up activity with parents.

Don’t do the same run every time. Hit a new park in a different neighborhood each weekend for your run. Your youngster will enjoy the new sights, and get a chance to experience different terrains.

Play music as you run. Schedule a picnic after the run, or a trip to a local pancake house.

Make It a Game

Running is just another game to your son or daughter. So make it official! Play Simon Says, Red Rover or Red Light, Green Light. This has the added benefit of giving them, and you, an upper body workout and a chance to stretch.

Consider setting up an obstacle course on your street or at the park. Invite the children of friends and neighbors to tackle the course too.

For holidays, plan special occasion runs with the kids and adults dressed in costume. Think Santa Claus hat for Christmas and red, white and blue for the Fourth of July. Make up funny names for your runs, like the Great Pumpkin Down and Dirty Sprint.

Make It a Group Activity

Let your children run with friends in the neighborhood, from their Scout troop or with school chums. You can set up a challenge with teams to keep their interest high. Let them choose a team color and buy t-shirts for them.

Give each child a wide, colorful rubber band for each lap they finish on a track. You can be sure she will wear it with pride!

Make sure each child is competing with himself, not the other kids in the group. Include opportunities in each run for every kid to shine. This is much too early to get labeled a back-of-the-packer.

Mix it up by letting the children run loops one week and sprint starts and relays the next. This keeps it interesting for them.

Have adults around to cheer the kids. Encourage the children to cheer and encourage each other as they finish their run with high-fives and chest bumps. Take photos of each child during and after the run.

An Official Fun Run

As your child sees you enter races, she will most likely at some point express a desire to do one herself. Enter her in a local fun run. These have official bibs and medals, giving her bragging rights among her peers. There is no better way to let her feel like a success.

No race close by? Don’t worry. You can enter him in a virtual 5k, with a date and course you decide. It will still have an official feel to it because the race organizers will send a download link for a bib and will mail a medal after the race.

It’s important that your child is the one who decides which races he enters. Don’t pressure him. When he is ready, he will let you know.

Start early, start gently and make it fun. That’s the way to give your child the gift of the life-long sport of running.