Expert | Children & Running 

Running has become something I love to do, I never thought I’d say that, not in a million years as I certainly wasn’t keen on running or sports as a child or teenager.

It was something I wanted to cover in a pocketnannies post, but I wasn’t quite sure where I was going with it. (And also who am I to preach about running? I’m definitely not a professional).

So I tweeted asking for some help with a post and that’s where the lovely Rachel comes in. (She’s  ‪@Mud_and_miles ‬over on Twitter by the way). 

Rachel Sheldrake is a FRA/UKA Coach in Running Fitness, and a former primary school teacher of many years. A keen and experienced runner herself, she is committed to promoting an active lifestyle for children and adults alike.

Rachel has kindly written this fantastic post for us on children & running..

Run, children, run!

In this day and age, it’s hard to turn on the TV, browse the internet or listen to the radio without hearing some mention of our children’s physical well-being, or, rather, their lack of it. Children are less active than they used to be, children are eating too much sugar and junk food, children are becoming increasingly overweight; the headlines are stark and often bewildering, full of scare tactics and lacking advice.

So what can we do to improve the physical health of our younger generation? What is easy to fit into our busy lifestyles, sustainable and affordable, and might even appeal to the whole family? One solution lies in running, the physical activity that many adults were turned off as youngsters, but come back to in later life. From the moment they can stand up on their own two feet, most little ones want to run; after all, it’s a great way to explore their immediate environment as well as huge fun to escape from their parents and carers! But come those teenage years, the desire to run often dwindles, as less active pursuits take priority in young people’s lives, and the physical benefits of what was a fun pastime are lost. With the right approach in early childhood, though, running can become a habit and hobby for life, and a massive contributor to both physical well-being and good mental health. As a parent or carer, it can be hard to know how to achieve this; just how should you encourage, guide and push? What is an appropriate approach, and how much is too much?

Here are some top tips to help you set your child off on what will hopefully become a running journey for life:

Focus on fun:
No matter what you do, if your child does not enjoy something, they will not want to do it again, never mind make it a habit for life, so make sure running is fun! Whether it’s sprinting through puddles in the park, running to the top of a hill, chasing the dog around the garden or finding clues on a treasure hunt in the woods, if your child is enjoying themselves they may not even realise that they are running, and neither might you! Get wet, get muddy, and get out there!

Make it a family affair:
Having good role models is crucial to inspiring children of all ages, and helping them to understand that physical activity is an important at all stages of life. The more you can be active together, the better. You don’t need to be a Mo Farah or Paula Radcliffe to do this! Set up a family relay in the garden, or make a running obstacle course on the beach that you can all take part in. Show them you are active and they’ll want to join in too. Take advantage of organised opportunities to run together as a family, for example parkrun, where you can all run/walk 5K together alongside other families doing the same. If the littlest are too young to run far themselves, invest in a running buggy; pushing them along will make a great strength workout for you too!

Think age appropriately:
Be aware that until they have passed puberty and finished developing, children’s and teenagers’ bodies do not function in the same way as adults. Their cardio-vascular systems are designed for short, fast bursts of exercise, balanced with plenty of rests, and not the longer spells of endurance activity we can tolerate, and often seek to do, as adults. Sprinting off and waiting for you to catch up is quite normal for younger ones, and the right thing for them to be doing. From a skeletal and muscular point of view, children need to develop a wide range of movement patterns, skills and shapes, so encouraging a broad range of physical activities, rather than focusing on just one, is the way to go. Developing great jumping, hopping, skipping, balancing, climbing skills and so on will stand them in greater stead for being generally active in future life, and for developing more sport-specific movements once their bodies have matured. And if you fancy jumping and skipping with them, developing better movement skills will be great for your body too!

Consider competition and challenge:
Some children love to compete, including while running; they see racing as king! If they enjoy doing so, great; encourage and support them in age-appropriate contexts, and be there to talk them through any disappointments they may have. For those who don’t want to compete against others, challenging themselves to improve can be a fun way of introducing competition into running. Whether it is seeing how long it takes to run around a course set up in the garden and then trying to improve their time, or seeing how far they can run in one minute, trying to beat their own performances is a challenge that many respond well to. Some children may not want to compete at all, either against others or themselves, and that is fine too. Let them enjoy running for what it is – an enjoyable way of exploring, being active and keeping fit – and you will increase the likelihood of them making it a habit for life.

If you decide to start out on a running journey with your child, good luck – and remember to enjoy what could become a life-changing journey, not just for your child but for you and the whole family too. When you find yourself racing your children to the top of a hill, don’t forget to look back and see just how far you have come – in every possible way!

Happy running!

Rachel.

Find out more about what Rachel does at her website which you can find here

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