Everyone knows that kids naturally love to run. Unfortunately, as everyone also knows, kids are lazy crybabies who will whine and moan at the first sign of discomfort, insisting on taking a "break."
Given these confounding facts, how can we runner moms and dads most effectively push our kids to be their absolute best? Is a small child even capable of understanding that breaks are for losers, which is what they'll be if they stop their workout barely halfway through—a loser? Will purchasing a professional-grade 50-watt handheld bullhorn with siren help them understand this?
The answer to all of the above is a resounding yes. Well, that's the answer to the last two, anyway.
As always, Dumb Runner is here to help. Follow these guidelines and your child will be an awesome runner before you know it.
First, Dispense With This Idea of 'Fun'
The No. 1 mistake that parents of young runners make is to stress that running should be fun, that just "getting out there and trying" is the important thing. And then they wonder why their kids suck at running.
Mom and Dad, the impulse to shield your child from pain and disappointment is understandable. But it is misguided. Because there is no greater pain and disappointment than realizing, as a teen or young adult, that you are an awful runner because your parents didn't love you enough to scream at you to get back out there and give them another 2 miles because placing fourth—fourth!—in the Firecracker Festival 1-mile kids' run is an embarrassment to them, to you, and to your community.
Running is many things. "Fun" is not one of them! Reinforce this message daily, via your bullhorn.
Use Games to Build Strength, Speed, and Endurance
One of our personal favorites is a little game we call "If You Can Run All the Way Around the Track Before Daddy's Watch Beeps, Daddy Won't Throw Away Your Doll."
Skip the Jogging Stroller
Some experts may tell you to "start your kids early," at age 1 or 2, by introducing them to running via jogging strollers. This is absurd. Kids that young are much too short to push a jogging stroller with any success. Focus instead on agility drills and running laps around your house.
Don't Use Running As a Punishment
In many sports, coaches treat running like a punishment, ordering an athlete to "go run 10 laps" for goofing off or getting something wrong. This is counterproductive, as it trains the youngster to associate running with dread or disapproval.
Instead, treat running as a reward. Motivate your child by saying, for instance, "Jackson, I swear, if you fall off pace one more time I'm gonna give you a reward you'll never forget!"
Remember That Young Brains Are Still Developing
This means you may need to use simple words, and shout, to make yourself understood when communicating with your child.
"You want a birthday party next month? Then go faster!"
Use Appropriate Terminology
Experts agree that parents should avoid using euphemisms when referring to genitals. So telling little Johnny before his 20x400 repeats that you expect him to go "balls to the wall" is frowned upon. Instead, command him to go "testicles to the wall."
Learn This One Invaluable Line
"Oh, what are you gonna do? Cry?"
This may be the single most useful retort that parents of young runners have at their disposal. It works well in any number of difficult situations. Including those in which your child is already crying.
For added effect, pretend in an exaggerated manner that you are crying as well.
Later, in a quiet moment, take your child aside. Explain gently that tears are really "weakness juice" and that only stupid crybabies make weakness juice come out of their eyes when things get tough.
Then have your child drop and give you 20.
Be Generous With Praise
Children respond to praise, and yours crave your approval more than you probably know. So when you notice a child running well, be sure to point this out to your own kid.
"Wow, look at him go," you might tell your child. "He is really running fast. His parents must be so proud of him."
Know That Other Parents May Have Different Ideas About Kids and Running
Some parents or so-called "experts" may express concern or even alarm at how hard you're pushing your child to run. These people are trying to psych you out. They know how awesome your child is going to be at running and they are jealous. Tune them out.
Then have your child drop and give you 20.