When Can Kids Start Running?

kids run
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"My three-year-old daughter is showing an interest in running. What's a safe age for kids to start running?"

Three-year-olds are natural runners. Some parents may sometimes wonder how to get their preschoolers to stop running, rather than start running. But, seriously, structured running in a race or alongside an adult is different than just bounding around the playground or backyard.

So what's a safe age for kids to start running as a sport, rather than just for fun?

Three years old is a little young for kids to start a formal running program. They may not "get" the concept of running a race and it could be a miserable experience for everyone. And one bad experience might turn them off from running races in the future.

But if your child shows an interest in running, kindergarten is a good time to look for a youth running program or enter your child in a local kids' race (usually short distances of 100 – 400 meters). If you decide to start your child in a running program, just make sure it isn't too regimented or intense. The idea is for kids to get some exercise, have fun, and learn to love running.

How to Find Kids' Running Programs and Races

To find a kids' running program, check with your town or city's recreation program or youth sports organization to see if they offer something. Some churches even offer running teams or clubs that are open to kids outside of the congregation.

Some programs are very informal and just have practice at a local track once or twice a week. Other programs are organized track and field teams that compete in youth track meets, where kids participate in events such as the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, relay races, as well as some field events. Most youth track meets require kids to be at least seven years old to participate.

To find a local kids' race, look on sites such as Active.com for events in your area. Many local 5Ks have a shorter kids' race before or after the 5K event. Check the race's website to see what they offer. The exciting race atmosphere may get your kids even more interested and excited about running.

What If Your Child is Too Young for a Running Program or Race?

If your child shows an interest in running before the age of 5, you definitely don't want to discourage him or her. You can encourage her to run by playing tag, doing an obstacle course, even chasing after the dog -- as long as it doesn't feel like a formal, structured program. Try playing some of these running games to get them moving and having fun. You'll help instill a love of running in them that will hopefully develop into a life-long running habit.

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