How to Raise an Active Child

I have to admit it makes me cringe when I hear parents say things like, “My child isn’t active.  She doesn’t have any interest in sports,” or, “My child doesn’t play sports.  He’d rather do other things.” When I come back with questions like, what activities have they tried, the parent will usually only give one activity. WHAT? Over the years, my eleven-year-old daughter has been in ballet, gymnastics, on multiple soccer teams, volleyball camps, a running camp and after-school running group, and swimming teams. She’s also had tennis lessons and snow skiing lessons. My husband and I decided when she was 4 or 5 that she would be involved in some sort of activity and if we had to try them all until we found one that stuck, then so be it.

So of all of the activities above listed, which one(s) stuck with my daughter? She’s now an avid swimmer and runner but all of the other activities fell to the wayside. My daughter has been on a year-round swim team for several years now and is going to try out for her school track and field team as soon as she is able next spring. That being said, our road to her being an avid runner has not always been easy.

My daughter’s first experience with running came when I signed her up for the kids’ dash at the Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure. She was three years old and ran 50 yards.

Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure

After the Kids’ Dash at the Race for the Cure, her next major running event didn’t happen for several years later. When she was 8, she ran in a kids’ marathon where she ran with a running group at her school, tracking her miles up to 25.2 and ran the final mile on the adult marathon course. A year later, I ran a half marathon in Branson, Missouri, the Roller Coaster Half Marathon and they offered a one mile run for kids. She ended up finishing in 8:25, despite the extremely hilly course during a cold, rainy morning and she had just turned 9 years old then. Sounds pretty good so far, right? Fast forward a bit from there and things went downhill quickly.

IMG_8374 (2).JPG
Gymnastics is really hard if you’re a super-tall kid, like mine is

I am a runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states. So far I’m up to my 40th state and I’ve been doing this since before my daughter was born. I currently run three races a year, so I’m out running quite a lot throughout the year. A few years ago she asked if she could run with me, to which I replied sure, thinking it would be a great way for us to bond. Then the whining and complaining started. She would say, “This is too hard!” and complain that she was too hot or too thirsty or too tired, and on and on. I told her before we even left the house that she would be setting our pace and if she wanted to take walk breaks that was fine. Quickly, however, I realized it just wasn’t working. She’d only last a few minutes before she was ready to walk and the whole time she would be complaining and whining. I couldn’t take it any longer.

Running the last mile of the kids’ marathon
Instead of giving up, however, I tried a different approach. I signed her up with Girls on the run, an after-school running group meant to encourage girls to live a healthy active life and help them build up their confidence in themselves over a 10 week period that culminates in a 5k event. This worked even better than I could have imagined.. Not only did she see that she was indeed a good runner but she began to gradually build a love for running. Since that Girls on the Run 5k, she’s gone on to run three other 5k races, one of which she won second place in her age group.

Not only is my daughter a runner, she’s also an avid swimmer, her true love. At a pretty young age (two), I had put her in swimming lessons and she had always taken to the water well. So after ballet and gymnastics didn’t work out, I decided to put her on a swim team during the school months when she was in the second grade. This was the activity for her! She loved her coach and even enjoyed participating in swim meets. Since then she has had multiple coaches and has been on two different swim teams and if anything her love for swimming has only increased.

First swim meet at the young age of 7

What is the biggest take-away from all of this? Don’t give up! If you put your child in a sports camp and it goes horribly, try another sport. If gymnastics isn’t for your child, try tennis, or basketball, or running, or ice hockey, or volleyball, or pick another sport. Keep trying until something sticks with your child. There are so many activities offered in most areas of the US that surely your child will enjoy one of them. Most of all, though, don’t wait. The younger you get your child active, the more it will become a normal part of their life.

Another piece of advice, don’t push your child too hard. Coaches are there to do their job so don’t try to coach your child or you risk turning your child away from the sport completely because it’s too much pressure. Simply encourage your child and tell them often how proud you are of them no matter what.

For resources in your area, try searching Eventbrite. Among other things such as music, they have a link specifically for sports and wellness and one for classes; both links include activities for children as well as adults. You can even search for specific events or categories or search by dates. I’ve found it to be a great resource for finding things going on in my area and when I’m traveling as well. Check out this tool to help you find events in your area.

How many of you are like me and are proud to have active kids? What activities are your kids involved in? Have you found it to always be easy to keep your kids active or has it also been a struggle at times for you?

Happy running!


Author: runningtotravel

I'm a long distance runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states in the US. I also love to travel so I travel to other places when I'm not running races. Half the fun is planning where I'm going to go next!

12 thoughts on “How to Raise an Active Child”

  1. Not a parent, but my mother dumped my sisters and me in all sorts of classes as a kid. You’re right, most of them don’t stick, but I still learned something from each class and appreciate what I got out of them. My true love is horseback riding and I begged for years until I finally got lessons. Now there’s an expensive hobby! After several years, my dad suggested that perhaps I had enough and my mother’s response was if he would rather I do drugs after school and become a prostitute. My dad quickly said that I should continue riding. Hahaha! Never did drugs and am not a prostitute.

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  2. Your daughter is such a little sweetie! Loving all the pictures! My son is amazing at baseball. However, he bats left-handed, sooo, when it came time for the kids to pitch to the batter (as opposed to T-ball), he got hit with the ball so many times he’d had enough at the end of the season. We’re hoping when he gets to a school that offers it as a sport, then he’ll want to play again. And because he loves baseball, he also loves tennis (although seriously, he’s big enough to be a linebacker, lol)

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    1. Thank you! I had a hard time deciding which photos to put in because we have so many of her in all of the various activities she’s been in over the years. That’s great that your son loves baseball. That’s a tough sport! And tennis as well. My daughter has zero coordination with anything ball-related. I understand first-hand how difficult those activities are to learn.

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    2. Batting left handed is actually an advantage, other than the whole getting hit thing. 🙂 Lefties have an easier time hitting right handed pitchers, and righties have an easier time hitting left handed pitchers. But since most pitchers are right handed, being a left handed batter is a pretty big advantage.

      Best of luck!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. This was a great story. I actually didn’t grow up playing sports. My parents didn’t have that much money and so enrolling in sports was not extremely feasible. My brother and I would spend a lot of time at the rec center nearby and I would exhaust myself climbing trees and playing tetherball though and I think that led me to want to do more active things in high school. I ended up playing field hockey and fell in love with it. It probably helped that I had a knack for being a defender. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Although you didn’t grow up playing sports, you were active and that’s what matters. I was also a very active child and I’m sure that’s why I enjoy being active as an adult. I’ve never played field hockey in my life, but it looks like a lot of fun!

      Liked by 1 person

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