The truth is, you cannot make anyone fall in love with anything…or anyone.
Sure, extrinsic motivations in the form of medals, t-shirts and other goodies can help to spur excitement, but what is going to make your kids want more out of running, or physical activity, or the outdoors for the rest of their lives?
Well, there are certain things that you can do to help point them in the right direction, but it all boils down to this: kids have to decide what they love for themselves.
Parents, coaches, and others can start to show them the values in running at a young age, but ultimately the child is going to be the decision maker. Parents always need to remember that just because they love running (or anything else), their children may not.
What really makes children fall in love with something is having fun, making friends, and the reinforcement of accomplishment. These are feelings that children take ownership of and find them wanting to continue…long term.
Healthy Kids is built on having fun each and every time the child shows up to take part. There are no mundane drills, teaching lessons, strict rules, and competitions that highlight winners and losers. There is a place for all of these, but it comes once the love and enjoyment have been forged. Children deserve to find the joy in the simplicity of an activity that will lead them to loving the rest of the complexities at an older age.
It is also important to have running revolve around friends, both new and old. It is always important to emphasize that the children are running together. They are all accomplishing something special every time they complete a task. When kids feel like they are helping one another to the finish line, the end result is that much sweeter to them. They also make friends in the process!
The last piece is building a sense of accomplishment from their performances. This can be hard to quantify for young children, so the accomplishment or goal should be something that is immediately attainable. Be proud of a child for each accomplishment, not just the medal at the end of the 5 weeks. Encourage them if they improved a little bit over last week, or if they finished when last time they did not, or even if they just kept the same pace.
As the children start to associate these positive feelings with running and physical activity, they will want more! That is exciting news, but it is important to not push children to quickly. When running outside of our program or another, make sure the activity is still all about having fun. Incorporate running into scavenger hunts, games, or even adventure races, or orienteering (structured activities that you can often find locally).
If you are running with your child, make the run all about them! This is their time to shine, and it will only create negative associations if the exertion is too difficult.
Keeping these sentiments in mind as you introduce your child to running or other activities can be really helpful. But, it is important to remember that children ultimately find their own path and it is important to appreciate their passions, no matter what they are!
Thanks for reading and happy running!