Learning to ride a bike is one of the milestones of childhood. Good or bad, it leaves an impression.
What can you do to help your child remember it as a time of learning the good stuff – you know how to make mistakes and perservere anyway, be gentle but firm with themselves, learn a new skill with help from a mentor, be able to ask for help and get it, try something new that they aren’t good at and still feel good about themselves.
Let’s face it. No one looks good when they are learning to ride a bike. OK maybe there is one kid in a hundred and he lives down the street from you. He’s 3 years old and already doing pedaling 20 mph past your house on his two wheeler while his dad beams at him and casually asks you “Don’t you just love watching your kid ride a bike?”
You smile and nod but inside you’re wondering when your 8 year old will learn to ride and if you can teach him without your neighbor noticing. You excuse yourself to find young Chris and get him on a bike today.
Pause right here. You already know this isn’t going to go well. You want your kid to learn to ride a bike so you look good. Not a good reason.
Wait for signs of readiness. Help create those signs through having a bike friendly culture in your home. Ride your own bike. Ride your bike instead of taking the car or watching TV. When your child is young, get a tag-a-long trailer.
Want to make it a great experience for you and your child? Follow these tips.
Tip 1: Look Backwards
What did you learn when you learned to ride a bike? What message did you take in? Was it fun, exhilarating, scary, traumatic? Do you want to do everything you can to help your child do the same thing or avoid it at all costs?
Tip 2: Get Real
Honestly notice your experience then say to yourself “This is my child. They are not me. They will have their own experience. It is not mine. I can neither make them have an experience like mine nor protect them from having an experience like mine.” Take time to listen to the parts of you that are insisting that this is about you. Then don’t take it out on your child.
Tip 3: Celebrate Mistakes
I can use this as an opportunity to celebrate mistakes. Especially for type A parents used to being right and getting it right (or for kids of that personality), it is good to learn that making mistakes is how we learn.
Tip 4: Small Doses
Fifteen minutes or less usually works well for most children when learning a new skill. Don’t cut it short if they are having a great time, but keep an eye out for gentle transitions. Pushing until they are tired and fall over is not your goal. Stop while everyone feels successful. If it takes a half hour to get ready, drive to the park, put on the helmet knee pads and elbow guards and work out for a short time, focussing on a single skill (see Tip 5 below).
Tip 5: Work on the Foundational Skills
What does it take to ride a bike? Balance, coordination, confidence, strength, the ability to reach the pedals and handlebars. You can’t do much besides adjust the fit of the bike to get your kid to reach the pedals and handlebars but you can create environments where they learn the skills of biking without being on a bike. Put a rope on the floor and have them walk on it for coordination and balance. Play hand clapping games for coordination. Run, walk, jump on a trampoline, and play for strength and coordination.
Children also need to know that not everyone looks good, gets it right on the first try or “wins”. Help them celebrate mistakes and falling down before you get on a bike and they will have a far easier time.
And above all, if it’s not fun, DON’T DO IT!
Kassandra Brown is a coach based in Boulder, CO.