I have been coaching young runners for many years now and one of the most frequent questions I get from parents is "How do I get my kids interested in running?" This question most often comes from parents who themselves are runners and would love nothing more than to see their son or daughter follow in their footsteps, but I have also gotten this question from parents who themselves are not runners, but want to make sure that their kids are leading active healthy lifestyles. Here are some guidelines I have learned over the years that will aid parents in developing their children's interest in running.
1. Lead by example
Children, especially at very young ages, learn to do by watching others. If you are the parent, chances are you are the one they are watching most, this means that your habits, good or bad, are likely to become adopted by your children. If you want your children to run, set the example. The very act of putting on your running shoes everyday and heading out the door is likely to cause your child to want to do the same. Let this be your motivation to be consistent with your running and even if your child does not follow suit, you still have put in quality running time for yourself.
2. Provide opportunities, but don't push
Kids in general love to run, but many of them are never provided the opportunity. How many times have you found yourself, or another parent, yelling at their child to "stop running." This is not because they don't approve of the activity, "running," but they don't approve of the setting "grocery store, doctors office, airport, etc.." So instead of disapproving of the activity, why not provide a better setting.
Start looking in your area for kid friendly running events and when you find one ask if they want to participate. If your child's school has a cross country team, make sure they know about it, and be willing to drive them to practices, or just take them to the park and cut them loose, but it is important that a parent keep running as an activity and not a chore.
The number one thing you can do to make sure your child does not run is to make them run when they don't want to. A child that is pushed into a sport by a parent is very likely to burn out and quit the sport, any sport, running included, as soon as their their parents are no longer around to keep pressure on. An activity that must be done becomes a chore. This does not mean you need to ask each day before scheduled practices whether or not they want to attend, this is a matter of honoring their commitments, but if your child expresses that they don't want to run track this year, do not make them.
3. Make it social
For a child, running by themselves just feels like work, running with your peers feels like play. Even most adults I know prefer to run as part of group. Check your local area for youth running groups. Here in the Bay Area where I live, I Coach Marin Youth Trail Runs. most well populated areas in the US will have a USATF Youth Track and Cross Country teams. If your child attends an after school group such as the YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs, suggest a kids running group.
4. You be the parent and let the coach do the coaching
When it comes to athletics, the job of the parent is to provide the opportunity and always let your runner know that you are proud of them regardless of their performance. It is the coaches duty to offer constructive criticism, set paces and race strategies, plan workouts etc... This rule applies to all sports, not just running. Do not confuse these two roles, and try not make them the same role. Coaching delivered from parents is received differently than the same coaching delivered from their running coach, the information may be the same, but relationship is, and should be different. Parents that overstep coaches will not only be resented by their children, but also by their children's coach.
5. Oh No!! Your child may not be a runner
This is not the end of the world. Some children may not be interested in running. Don't panic, this is not the end of the world. Even if you and your spouse were world class runners, and your child has the best running genes the world has ever known, you may find that your child's interest is in the clarinet. If this is the case provide opportunities for your child to pursue the clarinet, make it social, let the clarinet instructor instruct, and let your child know that you are proud of them.