The time is right when you are ready

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Yes, we did it again and, yes, he beat me again! I wrote about this same race with my reluctant runner last year.  This time around he was much more willing, not to mention faster. He ran 5km in 23 minutes, knocking my socks off. As the start gun went off, he sprinted to the front of the crowd to catch up with the lead runners and within 300 metres had disappeared from my sight.

When I first wrote about this fun run, I was debating with myself how to find the right balance between pushing my children to excel and encouraging them to explore the world and be kids. A year has passed since that blog, and today, as I pounded the horrid hills of Roseville trying to catch up with an 11-year-old, I was thinking about this dilemma again.

My son is such a natural runner – if only I could convince him to train a bit more. Last year it was the first time he showed an interest in running. After a lot of parental nagging, I convinced him to do a fun run with me. But training was not fun. He often complained he would rather be doing something else and on the day of the race and whined all the way from home to the start line. After last year’s race, he did well at the school athletics carnival but refused to train for the next level of competition. Maybe a tiger mum would have punished or threatened him to continue. I offered encouragement and incentives instead – to no avail. Then, this year to my surprise, he announced he wanted to run again.

This time around he was more committed to training. Sometimes I had to insist but for most part, he was willing to join my morning runs and for about a month we managed to run consistently twice a week. On race day he was excited and did his best.

There were dozens of children in the race. Most of them were wearing a club t-shirt like Little Athletics or Sydney Striders.  These are children that take their training seriously. Maybe they have tiger mums and dads behind them. Maybe they are just naturally driven. Maybe it’s both. With my own children, every time I try to get them to do more than they think it’s necessary, it backfires, it becomes a chore and they lose motivation.

I still don’t have the formula figured out but from observing my children and their friends, to get kids to do something with passion it’s not about pushing, it’s much more about encouraging children to explore and learn and giving them support when they are ready for the challenge. The problem for most parents is to learn when encouraging becomes pushing, where to draw the line.

“To get kids to do something with passion it’s not about pushing, it’s much more about encouraging children to explore and learn and giving them support when they are ready for the challenge.”

To address that, I came up with the term ‘short burst of pushing’. For the child that is not willing to try new things, sometimes they may just need that extra push. My theory is that you create the opportunity for the child to experience a new activity and if they like it, they may return to it even if at a later stage. In the context of this race, if I had not pushed my son a little bit last year, he may not have realised that he enjoyed the sport and could be really good at it. I hope he continues training but I will not insist. If he wants to pursue the sport, I’ll provide support and encouragement.

I’m a strong believer that childhood is about exploration. I’ve created an opportunity for my son to explore running as a sport. Maybe if I hadn’t, he would have found the sport own his own anyway. I don’t think we need to create endless opportunities but listening to our children and being in tune with their needs and interests can help us give them a little push (or a short burst of pushing) to help them push a few boundaries when they are ready.

What a challenge these races have been for me as a parent and a runner. I had trained much more than my son and still came two minutes behind him. I’m not getting any faster with age but I hope I’m getting wiser. Time will tell.

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The night I got changed in the car

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The sun had already set when we arrived at the oval for Lucas’ soccer training. While his session is running, I normally dash to the shops with Thomas to get dinner. But today there was a change of plans. “Mum can we practice for my cross country?” Thomas asked firmly. I wasn’t really in the mood for a run. I had covered 11KM in the morning before work and my gross, sweaty workout clothes stayed in the backpack all day. But how can you say no to a child who spent the whole day at school and after school care?

Our cross country training started with hurdles – where to get changed? I checked the public toilet but the lights were off, so we walked back to the car. I scanned the vicinity to ensure there were no parents around the car park, got in the car and started to unpack. Man, I never realised my own clothes could stink so bad. I quickly put the top on and my body shivered when the wet fabric touched my skin. Yuk! Then the contortionism began to put the sticky running pants on. Eventually I managed to get dressed and nerved myself to action in the track field, hoping I wasn’t going to pass by any parents.

Despite the hygiene situation it was an occasion for celebration – Thomas has never shown any enthusiasm for running, or for any other sport for that matter. “Ready, set, go” he commanded and we started to race. Well… I did. But Thomas started skipping. And jumping, cart wheeling and pretending to fly like superman. He also stopped a few times to climb over the fence. Close to the finish line he went on all fours pretending to be Snoopy. I was trying hard not to laugh of the whole situation. Thomas was clearly having a wonderful time but my poor baby was probably going to come last in the cross country.

“Mum, I’m glad I practiced for the race, I think this year I’ll go really fast,” he said. My heart sank. I was thinking how disappointed he was going to be. Running 2KM with that level of focus he didn’t stand a chance. I’d better say something to prepare him. “Thomas”, I went, “remember, it’s about doing your best, it’s not about winning.” – “I know mum,” he replied, “everyone gets an ice block at the end. Everyone is a winner.” What a gorgeous boy. Yes, Thomas, everyone is a winner. A life lesson right there. Please sweet heart, never ever change.