Last Sunday I was invited to a run organized for schoolchildren. While I was flagging it off and clicking photographs, I was struck by the enthusiasm of all the young participants. The organizers had got marshals to urge the kids to start slow and steady so that they could conserve their energy, and not fall or get pushed by others in that first rush. However, the enthusiasm and energy at the starting line got the better of the marshals’ advice, for the most part.
So are we marshals at home and, with the best of intentions, toning down our child’s enthusiasm for activity? Shouldn’t we rather let their enthusiasm infect us?
Running is great for kids
Apart from everything the exercise does for us as adults, staying active helps children’s bones grow and stay strong, gives them a healthy appetite, helps them burn off nervous energy and, believe it or not, can even be good for their eyes. Studies have shown a 40% increase in cases of myopia among children now that we live in smaller spaces, with children focused on indoor activities, especially screens close to them—TV, computer, cellphone or video games. Running outdoors helps them focus on objects at a longer distance and helps their eyes—so says Saman Adil, a consultant with Shroff’s Eye Clinic.
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What’s a good age to begin?
My daughters ran their first 5km course when they were 6 and 8 respectively. It’s amazing how much energy children can have. Run with them in the next 5-6km event in your city and be spurred on by their unbridled enthusiasm. If they are younger than six-seven years, try a 2km run.
Also Read Rahul S Verghese’s earlier columns
How do we get started?
Plan a family picnic—ask some friends with children of the same age along. Chasing after frisbees, playing catch, having a family vs family or children vs adults relay race, are some short and fun activities to start “training” with.
What’s the prize?
Children have a short attention span and also need quick gratification. So throw in a couple of prizes: a few chocolates or another favourite treat would be a good incentive. I used to give my kids Krispy Kreme doughnuts if they came skiing with me—sometimes they obliged just for the doughnuts! At other times, they asked “Will I get a gummy bear?” And my answer was always, “Yes! Of course!”
Shouldn’t they eat better?
That’s right. So your child needs extra rations of milk and milk products to build bones. Review the quantity of “empty carbs” they are ingesting by way of fast foods, sweetened juices and fizzy drinks—do not remove them entirely from their diet, but moderate the quantities, and check the balance of junk and “good-for-you”.
Take an active vacation
Whether it is by the beach, in the mountains, or even in a city where you can check out some parks and gardens, have fun and sweat it out outdoors. Make being outdoors and going for a run synonymous with having fun.
Set an example
Get a bit more active yourself. Sedate after-dinner walks are not enough. Run, play tennis, go to a gym—let them see you work up a real sweat with a moderate workout.
Try it, and you will probably become a five-year-old yourself, at least for that little while. And the children will not hesitate to join you.
Rahul S. Verghese is a management consultant and founder of Runningandliving,com. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org