As runners we naturally want the extensions of ourselves to be passionate about the activity we love so much. We want our children to live happy and healthy lives, and know what a positive impact running has on ours. It’s a gift that keeps on giving, and we want to share that.
But how young is too young to start running? Should we encourage tiny runners or is it being too much of a stage mom? What if my young one hates being active?
There are a few tips I have up my sleeve to help get toddlers interested in running. And I know it works because my 2.5-year-old son is the prime example.
Here’s Why I Encouraged My Toddler To Be A Runner
Before my son learned how to walk he was running.
Long before he was born, he became my running buddy. I ran the majority of my pregnancy, and then begin running with the jogging stroller when he was about 6-months-old.
He’s come along for endless miles with me while I trained for half marathons and even at races when running 5ks and 10ks.
And when he was old enough to walk, I started signing him up for the kids’ dash races at some of the family-friendly events.
As a runner myself, I believe it never is too early to influence little ones to be fit and healthy.
Let me say that I would never force my toddler to do something he didn’t want to to. When he was smaller, he really had no choice but to come along in the stroller while I got miles in.
But he really enjoys spending time outside and even asks for the stroller. If I go for a short run with him, he whines when it’s over and has me doing another mile or walking around to cool down.
If he wasn’t into running at all, I would never push it. But I am absolutely thrilled he loves to run.
How do I know?
My Mini Me: A Runner In The Making
Spend any given day in my house and chances are you will see my son running laps around the living room. He’s been doing this basically since he could walk.
He literally runs in a large circle, sometimes with eyes shut tight and smile displayed wide.
My toddler also loves “racing” in the kitchen. He stands at one end and says, “on your mark, get set, go.”
He then runs as fast as he can to the other side, stops, and repeats. Sometimes he runs this with his eyes closed too. But there is still that look of pure joy I can see.
Then there are the times when we are in the playroom (where my treadmill is (and always left unplugged)) where he wants to climb on and pretend to walk on it.
Looking at the happiness in his eyes as he runs outside or even in my living melts my heart and makes me beam with pride. I have a little runner on my hands, my mini-me, and I will always make sure these feet of mine are leading by example.
How To Get A Toddler Into Running
There are some tips I found helpful when encouraging my son to get into running. These include:
- Taking the toddler for runs in the stroller
- After your run, take them out and have them run a little with you
- Go for walks around the house and encourage racing each other
- Practice the “on your mark, get set, go” of races so they know what to expect
- Make fun games out of running like running to cones, playing tag, having them pick up an object and run to put it on the other side of a defined area
- Do stretches at home together
I feel like because I have introduced him to my running lifestyle early on, it is just a part of me and he likes to mimic the things that I do. I always make it fun like talking while I am running in the stroller and pointing out things we see. I make time to spend outdoors and even workout at home, whether on the treadmill or ab work on the floor. It’s never too late to start introducing a fit lifestyle.
One of the best ways to hook them on running is to do a kids race. They get to enjoy the excitement of a race atmosphere, earn a medal and bond with you at the event.
My son showed an interest in running, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t fickle and sometimes cranky toddler. Especially when it comes time for a race.
That’s why there are some things I do to make sure he enjoys the experience of races by doing a few things.
First, research local races in your location. Look specifically for those that have kids’ runs after the main 5k o 10k event. There are even kids’ races that some half and full marathons, typically held the day before.
These usually give the kids a medal or some other prize. Talk about this and get them excited to earn their prize on race day.
Start taking them out with you when running in the stroller or go for walks and introduce bursts of running. Get them used to the activity, almost if they are training. But remember these races are short distance so they don’t need training the way we do for a 5k.
Make sure they aren’t tired, meaning nap is a must if you can swing it. But races are generally in the morning, so they should be ready to run by the time the main event is over.
Sugar is also your friend in this situation. I know it sounds silly to promote running and sugar. But sometimes cranky toddlers need a little something to perk them up. Have some gummy snacks or juice on hand.
My son freaks out when there are large, cheering crowds and wants to be held. So get to the starting line early and hang on to them. Then kneel down so you are on their level and talk about what is about to happen. My son still freezes at the “go” when everyone starts cheering so I need to hold his hand and encourage him to start running. He has done it enough times now that he then takes off.
It isn’t about winning, but rather watching him accomplish the goal and the excitement of them doing so.
My son also hated wearing his bib on his shirt. I would pin it to his back, and now tell him he is going to wear his number like mommy’s when we are at a race. He now won’t take it off all day and proudly wears his medal for hours.
Find a kid running series like a track team or mini race series. I found the Healthy Kids Running Series, which was a series of 5 races for kids. It introduces them to running, and all participants get a medal at the end of the series with a chance to win a trophy for the top 3 racers.
I never push my toddler to do anything he doesn’t want to do. For example, we had him in soccer for months and he was learning and getting better before absolutely hating it. After two more tries of showing up, we decided to cancel it. If he isn’t having fun what is the point at this young age?
With that said, give them some time to get used to the world of racing. This might mean running alongside them hand-in-hand. It means sacrificing your runs for walking around the neighborhood. It means telling them about how great you feel after a run.
If you are a runner and want them involved, give it a try! If they really aren’t into it that’s okay too. There are plenty of other sports and activities that they can one day do. And who knows, they might just pick up running later on in life.