Should kids run? That’s the burning question in minds of parents and medical professionals. While there will be minimal scientific evidence to prove or disprove a hypothesis related to dosage that will ultimately lead to injuries (yes, please sign my kid up to run until his bone breaks along his growth plate…) there are some conclusions on the matter.
I love to run (my 18 year-old self who hated to run campus because I just wanted to work on ball skills would be in disbelief). My husband runs and completed his first full Ironman last Spring in Texas (proud Ironwife moment).
Now, I will preface this by saying my kids are the epitomy of free-range. My son and daughter beg to be outdoors. What’s my secret? I have no clue, they have literally been running circles around me for the past 6 years. But I do know they love to be active. They are more attentive, more well-behaved, more intentional after a good day at the park or bike ride down the road. I’m the mom that lets them run 100 yards ahead of me at the zoo. Open the back door and make sure they tell me if they’ll be outside our yard. As long as they’re safe, I’m fine with not helicoptering over their every move. How else will they learn? Plus, how else will I get the dishes done and dinner made? But, I digress.
So my kids constantly ask “when can WE run with you guys???
Key words above, highlighted, bolded, underlined. No matter what activity it is, please let it be on your kids’ terms. Kids are overtrained by well-meaning coaches and parents. They’re resilient and won’t tell you up front and honestly about pain and symptoms (and sometimes they’re even too young to articulate their feelings) until it’s too late. Kids just want to please you, and if they think they’ll let you down, or get in trouble, by being open and honest about injury, then they’ll push through it instead of seeking the help and guidance they need to regain their health.
Children’s bodies are ill-adapted for sport-specific training, in the traditional sense. They lack the adult hormones, bone structure, and body type to develop muscle hyptertophy linked to improved strength and performance. They can, however, adapt their cardiopulmonary fitness easily at this stage in life, just as any adult can.
I am a huge proponent of physical activity. Hiking? Yes. Dance? Yes. TaeKwonDo? Absolutely. If it gets your kids UP and ACTIVE? Get it. Parkour? Heck, it’s basically the love child of gymnastics and skateboarding. Love it. Just stay off the roof, please. Our society has become so unfit that children are presenting with adult diseases like diabetes, back pain, and even carpal tunnel syndrome. In other cultures, it’s the norm to walk/run/hike/gather miles per day. So whatever it takes to get the kids up and out of the house, I say go for it! This can also avoid the problem of specialization early in life. The more sport-specific you are early in childhood, the more prone you are to both injury and burnout. Experts suggest specialization should not occur until late adolescence, or late high school years. So diversity is key here. After you train for that 5k, start up soccer. When that’s done, swimming. And so on.
So, how can I get my kid started? Slowly. They are still prone to overuse injuries if progressed too quickly or don’t rest as they should between runs. Kids are more likely to get injured while growing, and often hit plateus of progression parallel to a growth spurt. Growing pains are caused by the bones growing faster than the muscles, leading to cramping and increased fatigue. Not only is this painful for some children, it causes increased weakness in almost all children. So, don’t push harder during these times, take it easy while your muscles catch up with the rest of the growing skeleton!
So, what do YOU think? This PT and her kids say yay!