Are your kids running as much as they need to?
At a certain age, some kids discover that they love running. Much to their parent's dismay, most toddlers develop the ability to move surprisingly fast in what seems like no time at all. That is an important part of the developmental process. But as kids get older, stationary activities can start to look more appealing.
In a study that asked kids why they don’t get enough exercise, most said that busy schedules and screen time were the main things that got in the way. As a parent, you can probably see the same issues -- and you can also help fix them.
Wondering how to get your kids running and loving it? We’ve put together running activities that can help your family discover the joy of movement -- read on for what to do and why it matters.
The Health Benefits of Kids Running
Running comes with a long list of health benefits. The earlier your kids get started, the better chance they have of developing healthy running habits that will help them in their adult lives. Here are just a few of the lifelong benefits of running they’ll enjoy.
Stronger immune system
Kids are notorious for getting sick a lot. They spend lots of time near other kids, where germs spread like wildfire. But if you get your kids running, it will give their immune systems a boost.
Although running a marathon can actually suppress the immune system, running in moderate amounts boosts the body’s ability to fight off illness. That means fewer flu and colds throughout the year for kids who run.
Running is something that any kid can learn and master. That can provide a great confidence boost for your kids.
Some kids start to avoid physical exercise because the sports and other activities that their peers do seem too hard. With a few missed catches or lost games, your kid might want to give up on sports altogether. But running offers the same benefits of physical activity with a lot less difficulty -- and it doesn’t require anyone else to be around.
It doesn’t take a lot of running to reap these health benefits.
One study found that as little as 5 to 10 minutes of running a day could increase lifespans. Just a small change can make a big difference. If your kids don’t have a lot of time for running, don’t worry -- they don’t need it. And starting small can lead to bigger changes as your kid discovers a love for movement.
Running does much more than just help your kids stay in shape. Running can also improve mood, increase focus, and even provide better sleep.
That means that kids who run feel happier and don’t have as many problems falling asleep at night. They might even perform better in school, thanks to the focus boost that running provides.
From acing standardized tests to knowing where they left their homework, kids benefit from sharp memories. Studies show that running helps with memory and learning, so your kid will find even their hardest classes easier to tackle. Although researchers aren’t quite sure why running helps with memory, they think it might have something to do with hormones or blood flow.
Stronger bones and joints
When you start your kids running, you’re helping them care for their health far into the future.
People who stay active from a young age are far less likely to have joint and bone problems when they get older. While the risk of osteoporosis or arthritis might seem far away, what your kids do now will help protect them in the future.
Some people worry that running might hurt kids' joints, but with proper technique, it actually protects the joints by strengthening the muscles around them.
Maintain healthy weight
Many kids today struggle with obesity at surprisingly young ages. Running helps maintain a healthy body weight, which comes with all sorts of other health benefits.
For example, a healthy weight also protects the joints by placing less stress on them. It also keeps your kid’s heart and other organs functioning well. And kids who are in shape often feel more confident and better-prepared to try new physical activities.
If your kid struggles with weight issues, it’s never too late to get them started running. While it might seem hard at first, they’ll soon feel the benefits of running as they get in better shape.
How to Teach Proper Running Technique
The proper technique helps get your kids to enjoy running even more.
Even if you’re not a runner yourself, you can learn the basics of proper form and teach them to your kids. Try running in place while facing them so they can see your technique and copy it. Here are a few tips to help the process.
Keep good posture
It’s important to stand up straight while running. A lot of runners start to slouch or lean forward, especially when they feel tired. Remind your kids to stand up straight and help them know what good posture feels like.
Focus on the arms
The arms are also a crucial part of kids running technique, even though it might seem like the legs do all the work.
Teach your kids to bend their arms at 45-degree angles, and swing them back and forth from the shoulders. The arms shouldn’t move from side to side much or at all. Have them imagine they're jabbing their elbow into something behind them with each arm swing.
A good running technique doesn’t mean taking big steps. In fact, big steps can create too much force in the body on each landing, which is harder on the joints.
Instead, teach your kids to step smaller but faster, so the landings aren’t so extreme.
A bird in the hand
For proper hand technique, have your kid imagine that they’re gently holding a bird in each hand. Have them close their hands, but not squeezed into tight fists.
Kids Running and Safety
While kids running technique is valuable, don’t get too caught up in it. Your kids don’t need to run with perfect form to get the benefits of running. You can teach more technique as they become more interested in running.
However, you do need to teach them a few essential safety tips so they won’t get injured. First, make sure your kid uses the right shoes for running: they should fit well, offer support, and have enough traction.
Next, teach them to warm up by stretching, especially before a longer run. A short period of stretching is usually plenty.
Finally, make sure they understand the importance of hydration. Check on your kids and encourage them to drink water before, during, and after running activities. Remind them to stop if they feel any pain at all, and make sure they know only to run where it’s safe.
Running Activities Your Kids Will Love
Now, let’s take a look at the activities that can get your kids running at any age.
To get energetic toddlers to give running a try, introduce them to the idea with one of these fun activities.
Very young kids love the thrill of discovering hidden things. Make a miniature scavenger hunt and encourage them to run from one hiding place to the next, while helping them along the way.
Build a road
Toddlers are just learning how to explore and manage their space. They’re also interested in the world around them. You can build a “road” in your house with tape and let them run along it just like a car does. (It will also make a great train track or airplane landing strip!)
Simple games like tag are great ways to get running with your toddler. You can also ask your toddler to name their favorite animals, then try running like each one. They might love chasing bubbles in the park or the backyard, too.
Kids at this age also love exploring different textures on their feet. You can let them run across interesting surfaces, like bubble wrap or couch cushions, to make the experience more tactile and exciting.
As your kids get older, they’ll start to explore and discover their own unique interests. Some might want to try running as a free-form fun activity, while others may want to try it as an organized sport instead.
An obstacle course is a fun way for kids to experience the benefits of running, while challenging themselves in other ways, too. You could surprise them with an obstacle course, or help them design and build their own. That is also great for kids’ parties.
Kids at this age sometimes get a thrill from seeing how fast they can go. You can have them do sprint races with siblings or friends. Or, you can time their sprints and have them see if they can beat their best time. A little bit of a challenge can give kids a great running incentive.
Visit a track meet
If your kid seems interested in organized running, this is a great time to take them to a local track or cross-country meet.
Try to visit a meet where the kids are a little bit older than yours, but not by too much. That will give them something to aspire to without being too intimidating. If they like what they see, talk to them about how to get involved, such as by joining a middle school track team.
Teens who like running might be ready to start running independently, such as by going to the track to train. For teens who’ve never tried running, though, it can be a little harder to get them to warm up to the idea -- but these tips might help.
Try a fun run
Color runs, night runs with EDM music, and other fun runs might get your teen running (especially if they can go with a friend). If you don’t think they’ll listen when you suggest it, see if an adult they look up to, like an aunt or a family friend, can suggest for you.
Get the right equipment
The pressure to fit in is strong in the teen years. Your teen might be more averse to physical activities, especially when their peers are around if they don’t feel like they have the right gear. While you don’t need to break the bank to get them the best running clothes or shoes, help them get a few quality items that will make running feel more fun for them.
Help set goals
At this age, your teen might be interested in setting goals for the present or the future. You can help them set appropriate goals for running, and help them see how running might help with other goals, too.
For example, if they say they want to make the varsity track team next year, you might work with them to set a goal for the number of hours they'll train each week. Or if they want to get into a certain college, talk to them about how extracurriculars like running can make their college application stand out -- but only if they stick with it.
Ready to Get Your Kids Running?
Start kids running early, and it can become a lifelong healthy habit. But even if you have an older kid or teen who’s never tried running before, these kids running tips will help them get started and learn to love it.
Not all kids will like running at first, but some will warm up to it with practice. Others might use it as a starting point to discover other sports and activities that they like more. Encourage your kids to follow those passions -- as long as they stay active while they do so.
Are your kids running and loving it, or are you looking forward to inspiring them with these tips? Let us know in the comments!