Athletics Magazine

Should We Push Kids to Run?

By Brisdon @shutuprun

I got a thought provoking question from a reader yesterday. I think it really hit home because it combines two things I am extremely passionate about – running and kids.


Emma – age 8

The question speaks to the bigger issue of how much we should push our kids to do things, and how much we should let them evolve naturally into their own little people. Before I get too much into that, here’s the story:

Stacy* has a daughter, Mia. Mia HATES to RUN. Mia is in 6th grade and doing cross country and track. She will whine and make excuses not to run. She has major anxiety before meets. She is worried she will let everyone down. She will complain for hours before bed about how her parents are the worst parents for making her run.

The parents respond, “Every one is given a gift from God to be good at something…you many not be the best at math or reading but you were given legs to run.” The parents say, “We can’t pick what we are given, we just need to make the most of it.”

Stacy’s ultimate question was – “Should I take her to get some anxiety happy pills? Know of anyone like this? We don’t want her to quit.”

In my opinion, this wasn’t the right question to ask. The “right” questions to ask would be:

  • Why do we care so much if she runs or not? Is this more about us?
  • At what point is okay to let your child quit something they have committed to if they really hate it?
  • On that note - when is it “right” to insist a child do something. When is “right” to let it go and to allow them the choice?

Parenting is a touchy thing because everyone has an opinion. Parents are protective of their kids. Parents want the best for the kids. The tough thing is – parenting is very subjective. What works for one kid or family might not work for another. There is no handbook, no perfect way of parenting. There is trial and error, finding what works for each individual.

That said, there are times to push and insist a child do something, and there are times when we don’t have to pick that battle. I learned this lesson very early on with my kids.

There are some issues that, as a parent, you must put your foot down about because you ARE the parent and you DO know better (school, being honest, being safe, etc.). Yet, there are some times when we need to give our child the autonomy to know what is best for themselves. Even at an early age we can do this by giving them choices that make sense (do you want oatmeal or Cheerios?). This is how we teach them that we trust them and have confidence in them. This is how we prepare them for the big, bad world out there.

This was my response to Stacy, probably not the one she wanted:

“If she hates to run and has this extreme anxiety about it, why make her do it? There are so many options of sports and activities, help her find something she likes to do and is excited to do. This is the age when they experiment. She may come back to running eventually, but if she is pushed, she will just learned to hate it. Usually the things we are good at are the things we also love, but not always. So even if she has a gift for running, it doesn't mean she has to do that. She can do many sports where running is a part of the sport and probably be very successful.”

“If she LOVED to run, but had anxiety about races, that would be a different story and would require a different approach.”

“That said, I'm also a believer that if kids have committed to a team, they need to stick it out until the season is over.  Then they don't have to ever do it again.”

I think one of the toughest parts of being a parent is realizing this is your kid’s journey, not YOUR journey. Of course you are there to guide and protect them. Parents get so invested in their kids being successful and excelling because they think it reflects poorly on them if their kid fails or quits. Some parents even live vicariously through their kids and depend on them to do all the things they never did growing up. I am not saying this is what is going on in this case, I am just saying it happens.

My kids run. They do not run because I want them to run. They run because they made this choice and they enjoy it.


Bolder Boulder 10K - 2010

My son has run cross country for the past three years of middle school. He has made it clear he doesn’t want to do it in high school. “I just don’t like it that much,” he tells me. Would I like to see him continue? Of course. But, there are many activities to choose from and I want him to choose the ones that light his fire. I don’t want it to feel like a chore. If I thought he was quitting because he thought he couldn’t do it, that would be a different story and a different conversation.

I do think it is essential that kids are active. They need to do something. There are lots of “somethings” to choose from. As we all know, being part of a team promotes camaraderie and accountability. Being active fights obesity and helps to maintain good health. Doing something keeps kids out of trouble (sometimes).

{There is a great article on this subject found at Livestrong}

I’d love your thoughts. I don’t care if you are a parent or not. Just tell me your gut reaction.

How would you respond to Stacy? What I said above. And for God’s sake…NO PILLS.

As a kid, did your parents ever insist you stayed in a sport/activity you wanted to quit? My parents were not into sports and didn’t have much input about that. They were strict about making sure I did well in school, was respectful and honest, etc. This was non-negotiable. The other stuff, like friends and activities, they let me make my own choices.


*Names have been changed

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