May 4, 2018, 10:30:15 AM CDT Jan 30, 2023, 12:17:14 PM CST

Kids and running: How to run safe, run smart and have fun

Expert advice for children starting to run or wanting to improve

Father and son running in the park Father and son running in the park

It seems that from the moment our children learn how to walk all they want to do is run. It’s one of the most natural forms of exercise and play. But if your child starts to run longer distances, you may wonder if running puts his or her growing body at risk for injury, and how far is too far.

Jacob Rivera, CSCS, USAW,, Performance Manager with Children’s Health℠ Andrews Institute Sports Performance powered by EXOS,  shares advice on how to help keep your child safe and having fun while running.

Is running safe for my child?

Running, like any other exercise, offers many physical and mental benefits. Rivera explains that running can be a safe, effective exercise. The key is to set realistic goals and encourage injury prevention by not taking on too much too soon and by incorporating proper warm up and cool down routines.

“In order for kids to run safely, they should start running early (encourage play) and often. Monitor the overall duration, length and volume,” Rivera shares. “Let them naturally develop a running gate and capabilities.”

Children can be more susceptible to overuse injuries during their growing stages – as the growth plates develop over time – so it’s important to take precautions to help prevent injuries.

“A general rule is to ensure that your child does not play the same sport year-round,” Rivera says. “Whether it’s running, volleyball, soccer or any other sports activity, encourage your child to partake in multiple types of activity and take breaks from playing a single sport throughout the year. This will help reduce the risk of overuse injury and can improve the chances of athletic success.”

 How do I encourage my child to run?

Rivera says it’s best to encourage running as early as possible with a focus on having fun. This is the best and safest way to begin a life-long passion for running. Children naturally want to play, run and burn off energy. It might be helpful to go for a run with your child too. Running together is fun and is an opportunity to encourage each other.

Even signing up for a community running event can encourage your child to participate. You can start with a short distance, such as a one-mile fun run, and build up to a longer distance event. Some elementary schools offer after-school running groups. Check and see if your child’s school has a program and encourage her to participate with one of her friends.

What distance should a child run?

Rivera says there currently isn’t a defined number of miles a child should run. Pediatricians and sports specialists agree the total distance depends on the child’s age, fitness level and overall well-being. To avoid injuries, children should generally avoid extreme distance training and training every day per week.

“It is best to slowly increase distance and monitor children for injuries and extreme fatigue,” says Rivera. “If your child wants to run long distances or compete in distance races, consult a physician or EXOS Performance Specialist to create a training plan with well-defined goals.”

What is the best surface to train on?

Running on pavement and other hard surfaces creates stress on the legs and back. Rivera recommends incorporating dirt trails and softer surfaces, which creates less impact on the body. No matter what surface your child is running on, be sure he or she wears the proper footwear.

What gear should I buy?

Beyond weather-appropriate clothing, the right shoes and socks are an absolute necessity to avoid injuries. There are many things that can impact the way a shoe fits. Children may need arch support or specially designed shoes to help with over-pronation (foot rolls inward) or under-pronation (foot rolls outward). Shoes are also designed for a variety of surfaces (trails vs. streets). You can find running shoe stores that will test and fit your child’s feet for the right shoes. 

Typically, runners will develop a preference for socks, depending on the type and thickness of the material. Options include ventilation, wicking and synthetic-blend materials.

Tips to run smart and have fun

One of the best ways to run safe, smart and have fun is by preventing injuries with a warm up and cool down before and after running. Develop routines tailored to your child’s fitness level, explains Rivera.

Plan the running route in advance. Make sure it’s well lit, safe and clear. When running in neighborhoods, run on sidewalks or street shoulders. If these aren’t available, always run toward oncoming traffic so your child and the cars can clearly see each other. If your child is running on trails, choose ones that are well-maintained and clear of debris.

Finally, follow a few simple rules: Advise your child to listen to their body. Never push too hard or through pain or injury. Always run with a partner.

Find a 5K family training guide

If you and your family are ready to race, learn more tips in the 5K training guide.

Learn more

Children’s Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine is the only institute of its kind in North Texas, with the goal of helping young athletes stay strong no matter the season. Learn more about our programs and services.

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