Updated: August 13th, 2020
Running with your Kids – by a Medical Doctor

Most running parents dream of the day their children will start running and racing. But what you as parents should understand is running and racing for competitions comes with a lot of pressure and your child may not be ready for structured training.

At what age should you get your children to start running as a sport?

Research-based guidelines about children running as a sport are surprisingly lacking in the medical field. US department of health and Human services has recommended 60 minutes of daily activity for children. It can include running, cycling, walking, dancing, and team sports.

There is no such age as when they should start, but if your child is interested and excited and there are no major injuries, running at almost any age is acceptable.

However, your child should be emotionally strong enough to handle the pressure, if they are starting competitive running as a sport, and be disciplined enough to undergo structured training. This may be achieved around 10 – 12 years of age.

As long as running is fun and not too structured for very young children, it is fine to start running at any age, even as young as 3-5 years. Start with short runs and avoid worrying about speed.

The first few runs will help you understand your child’s fitness level. Then the goals can be set accordingly.

How should your child be introduced to running?

At a young age, running should be fun and freer. The goals should be easily attained. There are certain events and programs which introduce young children to running as a fun activity.

They can be encouraged to run by giving a reward like a medal or a cup for completing a distance. This kind of introduction can be tried in children as young as 3 -5-year-old.

You as parents can check school programs and local running events and enroll your kids in them. This is suitable for children above 5 years.

Check your local town parks and recreation department website for running clubs and events. Children can join these clubs depending on their age groups.

What is the role of a parent when entering your child in to competitive running?

You as parents should be realistic about your child’s physical ability.

Just because you are a good runner, it doesn’t mean that your child must run and be a good athlete in the future. Make sure your child knows that whether he or she wins or loses, you love them anyway and that you will not get disappointed with their performance. This is very important in children as young as 5 years.

Help your child to set realistic goals. You should emphasize improved performance and not winning always. Their improved skills should be positively reinforced.

Your child should be provided with a safe environment for training and competitions.

If you are an athlete yourself, never re-live your own past through your child.

Your emotions at games and events should be well controlled. You should not shout at coaches, other players, or officials at such events. Respect your child’s coaches. Communicate and discuss any disagreements in training with them openly.

You can always be a cheerleader for your child and others on the team. This will encourage your child to perform better. Encouragement is known to enhance performance in not only children but also adults.

You can be a positive role model and be satisfied with your child’s performance while enjoying running yourself.

If you are a runner, how do you get them to choose the same as a sport?

If you are a runner yourself, you will want your child to choose running. But forcing your child into running when they prefer some other sport will make them despise running as a sport for life.

Instead, you can set a good example to your child. When your child sees that you enjoy running, he or she will most likely try running themselves. You can cheer them and encourage them to run.

How do you make running fun for your child?

Running should be made fun especially for children below 5 years of age. You can make a play ground or park stop after running with your child, so that they get time on swings or any other activity they like.

You can encourage them with a little reward or incentive like an ice cream, a sticker or proud displays of participation once they complete.

Enjoy running with your child, although it may not be a good workout for you. Consider it as quality time spent with your child and an opportunity for bonding.

Be prepared to deal with whining or crying on some of the runs as your child may not always be willing to run. You can first start by walking with them and gradually increase the time and distance.

Running is a great way for families to bond. It is a good way to teach your child the importance of health and fitness and what their bodies are capable of.

A child who is 8 to 12-year-old should be able to understand the importance of running.

How should running skills develop with age?

According to RRCA (Road Runners Club of America)’s fundamentals of youth running, general guidelines per age group are as follows.

  • From ages 3-9 years – Regular exercise is encouraged along with organized running which is fun.
  • Children under 5 can participate in kids fun runs.
  • Ages 8 -12 years – can participate in a running group with systematic training which lasts 2 -3 months.
  • Around puberty – children can slowly increase training distances and participate in competitive training.

However, these guidelines can vary depending on each child’s abilities and fitness level.

What distances should your child run?

According to pediatric sport medicine specialists, a child of 8-10 years should be able to run longer distances like taking part in 5K races.

Your child’s individual rate of development and desire to run matters more than the actual age, when it comes to long distance running.

Before you begin a training program or running a race with your child, always consult your pediatrician.

Keep in mind your child’s age, health and overall fitness level. Discussing with your pediatrician will help you with any concerns you should be aware of.

What speed should your child run?

It is good to keep running for fun and not to focus on goals at the beginning. Speed will develop eventually with regular training and your child’s fitness level. It is more important to prevent injuries than focusing on speed.

What is the age appropriate speed for your running child?

According to the age graded calculator, a 12-year boy can complete 1 mile in 8 minutes and 40 seconds as average.
A 10-11-year boy may take an average of 10 – 12 minutes to complete a mile.

However, speeds may vary with your child’s sex, fitness level and training.

What are the issues that can arise in your running child?

Excessive training in a child can lead to injury. T

raining in a child should be age appropriate and fun and not be stressful.
Soreness after a run is not an issue, but if your child complaints of pain while running, should be a concern.

Before your child begins a running regimen, make sure you consult your pediatrician or a physician.

Always watch for signs of stress or pain. Although injuries are inevitable, running should not lead your child into chronic injury.

Rigorous training may damage the growing bones in children.

What are the benefits of running at an early age?

Nowadays most children are addicted to screens. When children get out more and go for a run, this will minimize addiction.

According to research published in British Journal of Sports medicine, regular running increases bone strength and may ward off osteoporosis especially if they start running early in life.

Running helps to increase self-esteem and confidence will build up as they complete their runs. They will be confident in sticking to routines with better discipline.

Running can improve your child’s sleep.

Their ability to set and achieve goals will make them better individuals.

It is proven that running reduces the risk of type II diabetes, lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure. This is a benefit for both children and adult runners.

Regular physical activity like running can improve your child’s concentration and this in turn will improve their grades and test scores.

Physically active children will be able to fight off obesity better than their sedentary counterparts.

What are the RRCA youth running guidelines?

There are RRCA’s guide lines on safe distances your child should run according to their age.

  • Children under 5 can focus on dash events that range from a few yards to 400m.
  • Children 5 and over can take part in kids’ fun runs which are ½ to 1 mile long. Walking in combination with running should be allowed.
  • Children 12 and over can participate in a 5K run.
  • Children 15 and over can participate in a 10K to ½ marathon event.
  • Children 18 and older can participate in a marathon or further distance if they wish.

As parents you should keep in mind that these are general guidelines and your child’s health, fitness level, desire and motivation should always be taken into consideration when running and training.

They should not be pushed into running longer distances than they want to.

If your child has the desire to run, let it grow naturally. They will move up to longer distances and better speeds as they mature and grow stronger.

What should you do if your child wants to run a 5K with you?

You need to run their pace and be prepared to walk if they do.

Never put any pressure on him or her to achieve certain goals.

Take it as an opportunity for bonding with your child. Be positive and encouraging. You can be supportive even if they fail to complete the 5K.

Introduce them to your friends as a new runner. The positive energy will help them to run. Emphasis should be on fun and participation and not competition.

When is it ok to focus on competitive running?

Competition is good to a certain extent and it can teach many life lessons. Although at the beginning emphasis should be on fun and participation, with time they will be ready to take up competition and focus on a regular training schedule.

This is best to start around 10 to 12 years. You as parents should guide them on expectations and be supportive. Children should be taught that losing a race should not reduce their self- worth.

Focus more on fun and participation than competition if they are younger than 10 years. Setting up goals and training to achieve them are important life lessons.

As your child runs more races, they will improve more and focusing on competition can be gradual.

What are the factors to be careful about when your child starts running?

You should get your child safe running gear. Well- fitting running shoes is a must. It should give good support with a thick shock absorbing sole. It is best to get help from a trained professional when selecting a good pair.

Focus on safe and sensible training to prevent injuries. Distance and speed should be increased gradually.

Warm up and stretch before running.

Get your child to stop running if he or she gets hurt or feels pain. Get them checked by a doctor or an athletic trainer before starting to run again.

Stay safe when running out doors, avoid head phones if possible as it can make your child less aware of the surroundings. Teach your child to avoid dark areas and busy roads. They should take note on who is behind and ahead of them. It is better if you as a parent can accompany them while running out doors.

Obey traffic rules and signals and stay on the side walk whenever possible. Always choose safe trails and parks when running out doors.

Dress according to weather.

Carry a water bottle when running.

If your child feels faint or sick while running, they should stop and seek help.

If your child is planning to run for competitions it is best to hire a good coach. Getting in to proper running technique goes a long way.

Getting your child to train with a qualified coach will help to train correctly, structured in line with your child’s physical development and not over training which can be harmful.


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