Running, playing, jumping, skipping. They are the hallmarks of childhood. Most children seem hardwired to want to do them as soon as possible, and as often as possible, after birth. You don’t really need to teach children how to run and play, generally.
However, you may have to teach them how to build endurance!
A big part of physical fitness for kids is helping them push through physically hard tasks and encouraging them to keep going when they want to stop! Because, we all want children who can go longer without complaint.
Endurance is important, because while it can seem that children have all the energy in the world, it is often on their terms, during their playtime at the park or backyard, and not when you, the parent may want it to show up. If you ask them to do something they don’t want to do right then, it can be like pulling teeth to get them come along! All of a sudden their feet no longer work, and they are so tired…
You really want to teach kids how to build endurance because it will help your children realize their potential, value exercise for exercise sake, and see themselves in a new light.
In our family, we have taken our young children on walks from a fairly young age. We love going on family walks, and try to do it on a regular basis. But, building up to a mile or more of a walk or hike can seem impossible for some young toddlers and preschoolers. So, here are some things I highly recommend to help your child build endurance, so that even your two year old son or daughter can walk over a mile with your family, like our son does now.
How to Build Endurance – Prepare for the Physical Fitness
First, you have to set the right tone for your walk, jog, or other long-distance adventure with your toddlers. Because, physical fitness for kids is not so pick up and go.
Make sure the conditions are right
This means that you should plan out your trips. Look at the weather and make sure it won’t rain, snow, be sweltering hot, or freezing cold. Plan out appropriate clothing for the weather.
I know kids love building independence by getting themselves dressed, but if you want success, you might want to monitor what they’re heading out in the day of your adventure. Jeans can be really good to help prevent against skinned knees and mosquito bites, as long as it’s not too hot.
Schedule the outing around nap time and meal times, and be sure to change diapers and/or use the potty beforehand too! Potty accidents and bathroom emergencies can definitely cut short any grand hikes you may have had in mind.
Have the Right Supplies
Prepare for Spills (and not of the drink variety)
Nothing has killed our outings faster than a spill on the sidewalk or trail by one of our kids. And somehow they seem to take place right as we get to our destination, or right smack dab in the middle of our walk. To counteract the wailing, screams, and pleas to be held then the entire rest of the walk, we make sure we always have some bandages and some antiseptic spray in our car.
Just the other day our daughter took a spill immediately once we got to the park to go for a hike. We sprayed and bandaged her knee, comforted her, but then made her walk! As a five year old, she’s no stranger to skinned knees, so we did our best to help her overcome herself and push on. That is the essence of endurance, right?
Wear proper footwear
In order to prevent skinned knees as much as possible, as well as general trips, falls, and scrapes, we always make sure our kids are equipped with the right shoes! Sandals or flip-flops are not proper shoes for hiking on rocks, running, or skipping. We tend to be sticklers about this sometimes, despite how hot it may be, or even if they already put their footwear on.
We recently picked up some Made 2 Play Shoes from Stride Rite. They are awesome because they are comfortable for kids with their memory foam insoles, anti-stink lining (kids feet can so totally smell), grip & go strap for easy on and off for my kids, and are machine washable! Plus, your kids don’t even need to wear socks with them, which is great for my kids, who don’t really love to wear socks, as the socks are upstairs (and make your feet hotter).
You can pick up a pair of shoes from the Made 2 Play Collection. The Stride Rite Made 2 Play for boys and the Stride Rite Made 2 Play for girls selections for great shoes for your toddlers and preschoolers, so they will be best equipped to endure.
Other items to think about bringing are some food, like a little trail mix or snack (bananas or apples are great as they can be eaten as you walk, can be grabbed right as you’re going out the door, and then can be chucked along the way to biodegrade!), as well as some water. I prefer to just bring one water bottle for everyone to share, mostly because it seems like I’m the one who ends up carrying them for everyone the rest of the trip otherwise.
You may also want to put on sunscreen or bug spray beforehand. My daughters hate getting bug bites, as do I! And we seem to have the right blood to draw them to us, no matter how short we are outside! In fact, often one of our daughters will complain of a nasty, itchy bug bite as soon as we get to our destination to go for a walk, and be miserable the whole time because it’s bothering her so bad! So, be mindful of any pain or ailments your kids have before heading out the door, and think about packing or having some anti-itch cream or spray so that your child can move on and enjoy the hike.
How to Build Endurance in Toddlers and Preschoolers
Making sure you are prepped and ready for common occurrences that may happen during an outing with your kids, will help you focus on the quality time with your child, instead of focusing on comforting tears, carrying children, or looking for a bathroom! So, assuming you’ve prepped as best you can (life still happens, so just roll with it), the following are basic tips on how to build endurance in toddlers and preschoolers. Our five years old twin daughters can now walk over two miles without much complaint, and already our two year old son can walk a mile without too much stopping.
Small trips walking to the mailbox, or the corner playground, or around the block, can help build endurance in the youngest of children. Don’t buckle your toddler into the stroller, or even bring the stroller with you, but have them walk with you. Plan on lots of stops, wandering, and distraction from the youngest of toddlers, so be patient, and give them that opportunity to dwaddle (safely). The more you go for these small walks, and set up expectations (see below) for them, the more confident your child will become, and be able to start taking those steps toward enduring.
Set expectations of how far/long you expect your young child to walk and when. Maybe you’ll let them ride in the stroller until you cross the busy street or get out of the parking lot, but then expect them to walk the rest of the time you are hiking, or at the zoo, mall, or park. Or maybe you’ll time them, and tell them they have to walk for at least 20 minutes before they are allowed to get in the stroller or be carried.
Other expectations to set are things pertaining to safety, like making your child needs to stay on the sidewalk, stop at the corners, look both ways before crossing a street, hold your hand in a parking lot, or stop when mom or dad tells them to do so. These are really important when first taking your toddlers out. The sooner they understand these, the more confident you will be with them walking freely about.
Be the Role Model
With just about everything in parenting, it’s important that we are setting a good example for our kids to follow. This means you need to set the tone for your outing. You need to keep a good attitude and encourage your children.
Part of this means leading your children as well as encouraging them. I like to think about how a good shepherd leads their sheep: not by pushing them constantly from behind, but by going ahead of them, showing them the way.
I set a (slow) pace when walking with my young children, and expect them to walk along with me. I don’t drag them along, demand they hold my hands the entire time (even with my less than 2 year old toddlers), or yank them off the ground when they stop. Instead, I walk ahead of them. I show them how to keep a good pace and to keep going. I will then occasionally stop and wait for them to catch up, usually without too much prompting.
Other times I encourage my kids to run ahead, race their siblings or myself, or otherwise challenge them. And just like I wait for them when they are behind, they tend to wait for me when I fall behind eventually too. It’s a give and take.
Make it Fun
The other part of this leading and being a role model is to make exercise, walking, hiking, and general enduring, fun!
Sometimes that means telling stories, walking backwards, skipping, avoiding stepping on cracks, having running contests, throwing stones, singing songs, screaming or laughing at the top of our lungs, or giving my kids a little side kick with my foot on their bum, and letting them do it back.
If my husband is with me, it may even mean spinning our children around in circles, or lifting them up and swinging them between us. (For more ways to be a fun, silly parent, be sure to read THIS).
Part of enduing is often just being able to think about something else, anything else, than the fact that we are exercising or walking really far, or that we are experiencing some level of pain or discomfort. So, teaching your children these same skills, definitely helps them build endurance, and overcome physical limitations.
Another way to make it fun is to have your kids wear the best fitness tracker for kids, like a Fitbit. My husband and I both have Fitbits, so giving your children something that lets them track their own steps ups the level of competitiveness for them, and for you. Win for both of you as they challenge you to get more steps in too.
When your child successfully walks the entire time, or goes without complaining or whining, or otherwise endures, praise them! Tell them how awesome they are for doing something hard, for not giving up, for keeping a good attitude, for enduring when they wanted to quit.
I really believe that teaching kids endurance is important. While I mostly focused on walking (whether on a family hike or thru a venue), endurance is essential to build in kids.
What are your tips on how to build endurance in kids? Do you think it’s an essential part of physical fitness for kids?