Getting a child excited about running is half the battle in getting her to actually do the running. Whether your child is self-motivated to lace up her shoes and do laps around the neighborhood or you are finding yourself dragging her to the track a few times a month, having a few running-based activities can help make the experience more effective and enjoyable for both of you.
Intervals work well for kids, not just because of the base-building benefits but also for simple goal setting. Use imagery and themes for each interval. For example, start out a five-minute interval with an easy walk for one minute. In the next minute, have your young runner imagine he is trying to catch up with a friend at the school bus stop, then in the next minute have him race for the bus that is pulling away. Gradually back down in the last two minutes and then pick a new theme to get up to the faster pace again.
This style of working on a technique with children is often attributed to the martial arts community, but is a tool that lends itself very well to working with child runners as well. According to fifth-degree black belt instructor Paul A. Walker, finding ways to disguise repetitive work-outs makes children want to return to class, because it seems "as if they are constantly learning something new each lesson," eliminating the boredom that comes with repeated exercises.
Try this technique for working on sprints with your child by setting up three measured distances with cones or other markers and then playing a game, such as "I Want to Be ..." Call the nearest distance "Never," the second "Maybe" and the last "Definitely." Then start calling out a list of 15 to 20 possible future professions to your runner one at a time. Have her run as fast as she can to the cone that corresponds with how she feels about doing that job one day, and then jog back to the start.
Since a child's goal in becoming a runner is generally not the same as an adult's, the way a child will want to be rewarded is understandably also different. Running victories are often subtle and have to be worked for over a fairly long period of time, and since your endgame is to create a love or at least an appreciation of running and physical fitness for your child, a faster reward may be in order.
If you are standing at the track coaching and not running with him, bring some bubbles and blow them at him as he runs by. When the run is over, a trip to the dollar store for a new headband or something to wear at the next run is a fun way to reward the day's work and create excitement for the future work-outs.
The Child Development Institute recommends to also discuss reward options with your child, as the ones they come up with are "usually the most powerful." Remember that your praise and encouraging words are the best rewards, and feel free to give them in abundance.