Helping Your Child to Run Their Best

By: Bruce R. Wilk, P.T., O.C.S.

We all know that running is safe and good for our own health, and with the growing obesity epidemic in our country and increasing onset of childhood diabetes and cardiovascular disease, many parents come to me and ask if it’s safe for their children to run. I reply, “Yes, when properly performed and supervised.” After I give this answer, many parents often look concerned and question what exactly is “proper” performance and supervision. As parents, it is our responsibility to promote a positive attitude and safe training habits for our children. Participation should emphasize safety, sportsmanship, and fun.

Safety begins with adequate nutrition and hydration. This is nothing new. Children should eat balanced meals from each of the five food groups. Nutrient dense foods and those rich in calcium and protein are particularly important for young runners. Sodas, candies, sweets, and fried foods are no better for our kids than they are for us. Allow your kids to enjoy these foods in moderation or on special occasions. Runners do need extra calories, but it’s not as many as we often think. The best strategy is to encourage our kids eat enough healthy foods to satisfy their appetitive, but don’t force them to overeat.

Like adults, children should drink water before, during, and after every run. Don’t let your kids wait until they are thirsty to drink water, by then fluid loss has already taken its toll. Kids are equally as prone to dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke as we are.

Hydration goes hand in hand with weather considerations. Be sure they take in extra fluid on extremely hot or humid days, and, if possible, avoid running between 10:00am and 5:00pm when the temperature is the highest.

Proper equipment will also ensure our kids safety during running. Shoes and clothing should be considerate of the individual child’s body, their running habits, and weather conditions.

Our kids should follow the same training habits as us. They can run any distance and increase weekly mileage when properly trained and supervised. And even though we may believe that our kids have unlimited energy, too much too fast is harmful. Be sure that your kids take 1-2 days off per week from running. This will help prevent burnout, allow their body to recover, and give them time to enjoy other activities.

Although we do all we can to keep our children safe and prevent injuries, active participation in any physical activity always presents some risk. As parents, we must communicate with our children. We must ask questions and really listen to the answers. Is your child telling you that they are in pain? Yes? Then follow up with other questions. What hurts? When does it hurt? Does it hurt after you stop? How long has this been going on? Does it hurt when you walk?

Sometimes, kids will deny their pain from fear of being pulled from participation. That’s why observation of your child before, during, and after their run is important for early injury detection. You need to be able to recognize a running injury. Ask yourself these questions:

·         Does your child limp during their run?

·         Are they complaining of significant pain after they run or at rest?

·         Are your kids limping or compensating when they walk, go up or down stairs, or stand up?

·         Are your kids taking medication to run? Is your child unable to perform his/her normal activities?

Parents should understand that minor discomfort and soreness during and after activity is normal, but persistent pain that interferes with running or every day activities raises a red flag. If you have concerns that your child is suffering from a running injury, then you should consult a licensed health care provider that has experience working with runners. It is never wrong to get a professional opinion.

So supervise and participate in your child’s running and you’ll provide the best opportunity for your child to have a safe, fun running experience!

Bruce R. Wilk, P.T., O.C.S. is a board certified Physical Therapist, Director of Orthopedic Rehabilitation Specialists and President of the Runners High.  For more information please visit: or or call (305) 595-9425.

Copyright 2009 by Florida East Coast Runners and Bruce Wilk.  Reproduction or reprinting without written permission is illegal.

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