How to Raise Kids Who Love Running

Create a family of runners with these tips for encouraging a love of running

Kids love running
Ready for a fun run. Catherine Holecko

It's hard to beat running as a family hobby: It's easy to learn, requires little equipment, can be done almost anywhere and anytime, and helps everyone get some of that all-important daily physical activity. Plus, fun run events are motivating, plentiful, and yes, fun! Are you trying to nurture kids who love running? Take these ideas and run with them!

Pace Yourself

To introduce very young kids to running, take them with you in a jogging stroller when you run.

Once they are confident walkers, encourage them to run in parks and on trails, says​ Running and Jogging Expert Christine Luff. This is safer than running on sidewalks—and you can go farther without stopping. At the park, Christine also recommends doing a lap around the playground and then hitting the swings and slides.

Don't try to get your own running workout in with kids in tow (except in a stroller). Instead, let them set the pace. This applies whether they're 3 years old or 13. Constantly feeling like you're falling behind is no fun! Instead, set small goals so kids feel successful. These goals don't all need to be about running fast. Some could be about adding distance, experimenting with a new type of run (intervals on a track or visiting an unfamiliar trail, for example), or playing a game, like trying to spot all 26 letters of the alphabet on signs you pass.

Running together will help you gauge your child's pace and ability.

"Don't underestimate how far they can run and how fast," says Melissa Novak, who has an 8-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. "They will get faster as they get older and gain more muscle. I wasn't sure how fast Nick was going to be able to do a 5K we ran together—and he smoked me!"

When your child runs, especially as part of a team or in a race, be sure to offer specific words of praise: maybe for beating his best time, but maybe for setting a pace and sticking to it, or for cheering on a friend.

Games Runners Play

Running can certainly be its own reward. But you can also boost the kid appeal with some motivating activities. Simply tracking mileage feels great. "This summer, we did jogging/walking logs," says Betsy Wilson, mom to two school-age kids. "We logged miles in half-mile increments. Between fun runs, hiking a National Scenic Trail in our state, and walking around town, they logged quite a few miles."

Finding new places to explore (on the run, of course) is rewarding for kids and adults. Check out nature centers with trails, bike paths, school tracks, even indoor tracks, and treadmills—even those are fun when they're new and different. (Be sure to supervise kids closely around treadmills.) You can also mix things up by running at night with flashlights or headlamps. Bonus points if you wear your pajamas!

Games that incorporate running are great for building endurance, in addition to being fun. Try Red Light, Green Light; relay races; all kinds of tag; and Capture the Flag.

You can even play a speed version of geocaching or letterboxing. An added plus with games: You play them with friends!

Community events, fun runs, and other races can inspire kids, whether they're participating, spectating, or volunteering. The Center for Children's Running suggests taking kids to see a track or cross country meet, at a middle school if possible so kids can identify with runners who are close to their own age. Volunteering at a water station during a race helps your child feel important and part of a community of runners. And of course, some kids love running in a real race, whether it's a kids' fun run or a family-friendly 5K. There are so many options for the latter: color runs, mud runs, glow-in-the-dark runs, and more!

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