Kids Running: How to get motivated and deal with limitations

By Lucas Zanetti, Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa

Physical activity is an integral part of a child’s healthy development of their body and mind. One of the best ways to get active is to start running! Running, regularly, will help develop strong bones and muscles, lower blood pressure, improve sleep quality and develop strong mental characteristics such as perseverance which will help your child take on challenges in their life as they continue to grow. If done correctly, getting your child to run at an early age can be a good way to bond with them and establish a healthy relationship with exercise for the rest of their life.

How do I get my child motivated?

Although running is a relatively simple sport, it can be discouraging to start since it gets hard very fast. Here are a few good tips to help get your child excited and stay engaged with running.

  • Create a positive attitude around running: Try not to pressure your child into going for a run but rather, talk about how fun it is and give them the opportunity to want to join you in this fun activity!
  • Get your child to set a goal: Goal-setting is a huge motivator when it comes to creating a habit. If your child has a race, a time, or a distance they would like to achieve, plan to reward them after so they have other motivating factors to work towards as well.
  • Start slow: It’s really important not to take on too much too fast. Try just running around 10 minutes, a few times a week and when that becomes manageable, you can start adding more. This will help prevent injuries which can commonly occur from the overuse of underdeveloped muscles.
  • Sometimes we need to walk in order to run: It is good to start runs with a few minutes of walking to get the body warmed up, and to walk some more after the run to ease the tension in the muscles. During the run itself, don’t be afraid to take walking breaks when your child is running out of breath. Let them catch it and then keep going!
  • Chart progress together: Having a fun journal or poster board with lots of colour to chart the progress of running training provides a fun way to stay engaged with the initial goals that were set. It will also allow you to see whether you should adapt the goals as you go.
  • Encourage other activities as well: Having an assortment of activities will help your child not get bored of doing the same thing over and over, and will help them develop other motor skills that are necessary for healthy development. Another great aspect of doing a variety of activities is that your child will likely see improvements in their other activities due to the fitness they gain from running! This could help encourage them to continue running more.


While running is an incredible way for children to develop their physical and mental health, it’s important to recognize its limitations and how they can be mitigated.

  • Overtraining can cause injury: Aches and pains are normal in running and it is very common to feel soreness in the legs especially the day after a run. Some more serious injuries would be if a muscle gets pulled or torn, or a stress fracture occurs in the foot or shin bones. This is usually caused by running too much too soon, or by increasing the intensity too soon when the body hasn’t had enough time to adapt to the training. While light running when they’re sore is okay, it would be best not to try a hard run when the legs are feeling sore as they would be at risk of one of those bigger injuries. If shin or foot pain becomes chronic even when not running, that would be a sign to consider getting an x-ray to determine if there is a stress fracture.
    • A way to mitigate injuries like this is to make sure your child is warming up and recovering properly. A good warm up would include a walk or even short, light jog and some dynamic stretches like leg swings against a wall. A good cool down would include some more walking and a variety of leg stretches such as trying to touch toes with legs straight for the hamstrings, butterfly stretch for the groin, and downward dog for the calves.
  • Just running can cause muscular imbalances: Running is a great sport for developing cardiovascular fitness as well as linear leg strength, but there are not a lot of lateral movements in running which can lead to certain muscles, tendons and ligaments not developing as much. As your child grows bigger and taller, these imbalances will increase the risk of injuries in the ankles, knees, and hips.
    • This is where engaging in other activities that incorporate different movements comes into play. Just as it will help motivate your child, it will also decrease any imbalances that they may develop.

Now that you understand some of the benefits of getting your child into running at an early age, you have some tools to help get them motivated, and you know what to look out for when it comes to limitations and how to handle them!

Did you know that Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend has a race specifically for kids? Find out more about the Ottawa Kids Marathon!