Dear Marathon Mom,
My kids are 5 and 8 years told – not really old enough to join me running, but too old and big to push in a jogging stroller. They do show some interest in my running and occasionally ask questions. I’d like to foster this interest and show them why running is so good for you and that it can be fun without pushing them into being runners if they don’t want to be. Any suggestions?
Running Mom of Two
Dear Running Mom of Two,
I have to say, having two kids interested in your sport is a good problem to have! That’s wonderful that they’ve shown interest in your running, as it means you’re setting a great example of making exercise, health, and general activity a part of your life. They are far more likely to do the same as they grow older when at least one of their parents is setting the example. Good for you!
Clearly, I am in favor of you fostering their interest, and there’s no better way to learn what running is all about than to give it a try. Of course, you’re right, in that taking a 5 & 8 year old out for one of your regular running routes (I’m guessing, if you’re a regular runner, that you do at least 3-5 miles at a time?) would overwhelm them and most likely turn them off from running altogether. However, there’s no reason you three can’t go on a shorter ‘family run’ a couple times around the block, or on a small section of trail at your nearby park.
Since children are not usually inclined to pace themselves, pick an object for them to sprint ahead to. If your older child is much faster than your youngest, develop different goals for them, like running to a farther tree or running an extra lap. Do this until they are nice and tired, and then use it as an opportunity to help them learn about some of the physical aspects of running. Have them take their (or each other’s pulse) and explain why it’s good to get your heart pumping sometimes. Once their heart rate starts slowing back down, ask them to reflect on how they feel. Odds are, their mood has improved.
As their breathing slows, ask them if they’re willing to try an experiment with you. Most kids will be intrigued simply by the word “experiment” and agree. Ask them to run next to you, making a straight line, and then jog at a pace reserved enough that your 5-year-old can keep up pretty easily. Take them to the same tree, rock, or whatever you had them sprint to the first time, and back, and then stop. They may be breathing heavier than usual, but they ought to be breathing far easier than after their sprint. And just like that, you gave them a lesson in ‘pacing’. As an added bonus, this experiment can be referred back to as a metaphor for many other lessons you’ll teach them in life.
Other alternatives to include them in your running are inviting them to ride their bikes alongside you on one of your shorter routes, helping you pick a race (and then coming to support you, of course), or helping to set new running-related goals for you. I particularly like the last idea, because it not only shows you what your kinds may find important about running, but you can take the opportunity to explain your own goals for running, how you decided on them, and use the whole experience as a lesson in ‘how to set personal goals’ – a life skill any child will benefit from.
If you’re worried about making them feel pressured or persuaded to take up running as their main hobby just because you chose to, just be mindful about your words. Rather than focusing on how ‘awesome running is’ or whose the fastest runners and who wins races, talk about how running makes you feel. Using words like, “relaxed,” “healthy,” and “happy” show how running is a way to help change your mood for the better, which is why you enjoy it. Even words like “Accomplished” and “winner” can be used in a non-competitive manner, such as saying, “I love how even if the rest of my day has been difficult, completing my run makes me still feel like a winner – like I accomplished something great today.”
Congrats again on having two awesome and active children. Best of luck fostering their interest in health and exercise!