Convincing kids to do anything can be difficult, but if you want to share your love of running with them, it’s a worthy effort. Beyond the promise of quality time together, there are a ton of reasons to encourage running. The 2018 United States Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth reported that kids who see their parents exercising tend to be more physically active. That’s important because the report also stated that obesity among 2 to 19 year olds increased to 18.5 percent in 2016 (by comparison, in 1999 it was 4 percentage points lower). And multiple studies suggest that when kids spend more time playing and exercising, it can lead to improved self confidence, better sleep and healthier nutritional choices. Need a roadmap to get your kids on board? Start here.
Keep It Fun
As your little ones get older, there will be opportunities for serious training, but for middle school age and under, keep the mood light. Try a leapfrog run, where everyone runs in a line and after a predetermined amount of time, the person in the back sprints to the front. From there, it’s the new leader’s turn to set the pace. For younger children, experiment with variations of red light-green light or scavenger hunts. And to keep things interesting, vary the location of your runs–expose your kiddos to trails, the track or even the treadmill.
Achieving a personal goal is a great way to foster intrinsic motivation and a sense of accomplishment. Help your child decide on something that’s achievable yet still challenging—maybe it’s running a quarter mile farther each week or finishing a 5K race under 30 minutes.
Spark Some Competition
Sign up for a local 5K together or hold a casual competition among friends and family. Gather everyone together for a run and hand out fun awards (the dollar store is a great place to find goodies!). In addition to the first finisher, give awards to the person with the fastest negative split or the best finishing kick.
Reward the Effort
Of course you want your kids to run for the health benefits and the stress relief, but sometimes a little external motivation can’t hurt. Some ideas might be a post-run ice cream cone, a new piece of running gear, a trip to the aquarium or a new playlist to listen to on the run.
In addition to logging miles themselves, encourage your kids to take part in the greater running community. Cheer on the local track team, plan a trip that coincides with spectating a big city marathon or volunteer to hand out water at a local 5K.
Make It Social
If you’re planning on participating in a kid’s fun run, let your child invite a friend. For older children, research local youth running clubs or even just encourage them to post about their runs on social media. For better or worse, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are incredibly influential to kids and teens. If they post about their runs, the positive feedback from friends can create a sense of pride and ownership in the activity. And it may even encourage one of their friends to join in too!
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