We know kids watch what we do, what we eat, and how we talk about ourselves. But even if you’re living a healthy lifestyle that includes eating right and getting exercise, it can be tricky to find the right way to introduce your kids to an activity you love – and hope they’ll love, too. Running can be a good first sport they can do all their lives, if you introduce it the right way.
We called on the experts to give us some tips for this, both from a parenting and a personal training viewpoint. Jamey Yon is a 22-time Ironman finisher – and father of five children, ages 7 – 14. He admits it isn’t always easy to convince kids to go for a run, but with a little creativity, he has introduced his kids to healthy activities they enjoy. So how do you do that?
“Start from as soon as they can walk,” says Yon. “Things like going down slides, running, playing in the yard, kicking a ball around, or playing catch… things like that.”
How many of us remember a spirited game of Red Rover or Red Light, Green Light as kids? Children are naturally competitive, and want to race and even win. “Making it fun – that’s the number one thing,” says Yon. And even if it isn’t your usual 10-mile run, any parent knows playing games outside with kids is exercise! It will wear you out, so it counts. It also teaches them the values that go with sports early on: you win some, you lose some, so just keep trying.
The same philosophy can be found in the programming at Girls on the Run, a youth running organization that started in Charlotte, Girls on the Run. Program Manager Mary Stuart Fountain says the GOTR program builds the value of healthy lifestyles from the inside out in girls – teaching them about support, communication, and team building, in addition to healthy habits and running.
Listen in: Maghan Knight explains why Girls on the Run is “so much fun,” on this episode of the Running Around Charlotte podcast!
“We try to make practices fun,” says Fountain. “Games, activities, freeze tag —
then we run a few laps.” The focus is on awareness of healthy habits more than it is on running. Again, as many parents knows, you can’t make a child run, but if you make them want to run, your work is done.
“With any sport, the ultimate goal is that they will cultivate and build healthy life habits in their older years,” says Fountain. “We incorporate life skills to make them healthy and confident, then practice activity that reinforces those components.”
Dr. Christian Turner, an athlete and pediatric sport medicine doctor with Novant Health Pediatric Sports Medicine in Midtown Charlotte, finds modeling good behavior a way to get kids involved. He and his wife have exercised with their kids since they were born.
“They’re used to seeing us,” says Dr. Turner. “Just having them around and exposed makes it become a normal thing.” And like adults, the great feeling they get after exercising will bring positive vibes to the rest of their day.
So here are some quick tips from our pro’s that will help you encourage your kids to get up and get active:
- Make it a group sport – kids get motivation and accountability from being active with their peers.
“Elementary school kids are getting into a routine, so it seems to be a good time to start being introduced to organized sports,” says Fountain. “There are so many benefits of being part of an organized team.” For younger children, games with parents and siblings are just as fun.
- It’s not about time – meaning, if you get out and run, let kids choose their pace. If you start comparing every outing, they’ll shy away from ever going. Instead, encourage them to challenge themselves with adding another street to their neighborhood loop, or finding a new trail to explore.
“Pace is not important, so don’t time them,” says Yon. “They’re going to tell you ‘when’ – when to stop, when they want to walk.” If your kids like challenging themselves, agree to do a time trial once a month or every few months so they can see their improvements. Don’t make it an every-run kind of thing.
- Add accountability, but keep it positive – no punishment, but a reward when the group succeeds. Some kids really dig doing this! Yon made a chart with a weekly goal for each family member, according to their age and ability, with the promise of a family trip when everyone reached their goal. Suddenly, his kids hated missing a day, and often asked to go out on their own to finish.
“When family gets going on a goal together, it makes a big difference,” he says. “Create the fun, the challenge, and the reward. Always encourage them, no matter how well or poorly they do. They tried and competed and that’s all that counts.”
- Find a goal – Kids are a lot like grown-ups, that they work a little harder, or are a little more motivated, when they have a goal. Find a family-friendly virtual race you can do together, and they’ll look forward to preparing for it more than if they are just running to run. If they can’t run a whole 5k, run a little and walk the rest. Let them know that’s okay, too.
“Anything you can do to get your child physically, emotionally, and mentally engaged is good,” says Fountain, “and anything you can do as a family.”
Dr. Turner likes to print out a calendar and see how many days of the month his kids can color in, a sign they’ve done some activity. And really, anything that gets them moving is good.
“Just give them space to try different stuff and move more each week,” he says.
Listen in: Dr. Christian Turner talks about how to get kids moving on this episode of the Running Around Charlotte podcast!
- Appreciate the moment – whether it’s the time together, the neighborhood you live in, the birds in the trees, or the dandelions growing in your neighbors’ yards. Every outing can involve exploring new paths and appreciating their uniqueness. And have fun with it!
“Play music, or dress in fun ways that make you happy!” says Fountain. The goal is to keep going. Enjoy the journey – activity is not always about the finish line. Life is a marathon, not a sprint! Enjoy it together.