Tips to teach your (anxious) child to ride a bike
Sitting without support. Standing without a wobble. Walking. Talking. First day of school. These are the big milestones in your child's life. And then, around the age of 5, your child learns to ride a bike. Another HUGE milestone, another box ticked off. (Now, I'm not the kind of mum who has her 'List of things my child should know before he becomes a teenager', but I'll be honest, if I were to have that list, swimming and cycling would be among the top five!).
So, the summer after Little Man turned 5, we decided to take out the stabilisers on his bike. It was time, we thought. Let's get this done with, we thought. It will be so much fun, we thought. But Little Man HATED it. He had a few wobbles, and that put him off even wanting to learn to ride a bike. It had become a mental block, that he couldn't and thus wouldn't do it, and no amount of coaxing and pleading made him change his mind.
Another year passed and now I was getting restless. Most of his classmates and buddies were now biking, and while I'm not one to compare, I'll be honest again, I was comparing! So we decided on some tough love (and
some lot of bribing) and made use of the lockdown, the extra time on our hands and the sunny weather to teach Little Man to ride a bike.
Was it fun? No. Not for him or us. Was it stressful? Yes, for him and us. There were tears. There was frustration. There was me googling 'How to teach a child to ride a bike' because he just wasn't 'getting it'. No, it didn't magically take just 45 minutes or one Sunday afternoon. Or even a day at the park or a weekend. It took a good two-ish weeks (though it felt much, much longer than that!).
WE DID IT! HE DID IT! And this (unofficial) rite of passage into boyhood finally happened.
And even while Little Man learnt to ride a bike, I learnt some useful tips on how to teach a child to ride a bike.
Tried-and-tested tips to teach your child to ride a bike
1. Be positive, not anxious
The first – and most important rule – is to not be anxious or show your frustration when teaching your child, as he/she will sense it and become (more) anxious. Stay calm (even though you can't for the life of you fathom why your child cannot balance!!!) and keep giving positive assurance. Don't shun their fears but rather acknowledge them while offering support.
Ok, that's the emotional part, now onto the practical bits. Balance is at the core of learning to ride a bike; once your child figures that out, it's only a matter of gaining confidence. Yet, it's not as simple as it sounds. Ask me – it was sooooo frustrating to see Little Man move his entire body to the left or right, biking at an almost 45 degree angle!
2. Learning balance: Balance bikes
Balance bikes are a great way to start your toddler on the journey of biking. These are bikes without pedals, so the child needs to use their feet to first 'walk or scoot the bike', then gain speed and eventually 'glide the bike', therein mastering the art of balancing. These bikes are lower and lighter and can even be used by toddlers.
If your child is older, or you don't want to spend extra money on a balance bike, simply take the pedals off a normal bike (and put them back on once your child is confident to start peddling).
If you prefer to start with stabilisers instead, take one stabiliser wheel off first, so your child feels secure knowing the other wheel is still there. Alternatively, adjust one stabiliser wheel slightly higher than the other so the bike is tilting.
3. Get the basics right: Bike size and seat level
The size of the bike is also a key factor when teaching a child to ride. If the bike's too big and their feet can't touch the ground, it adds to their fear. Too small, and it actually hinders their pedalling. So make sure your child is on an appropriate-sized bike.
Don't forget to adjust the seat height as well – your child's feet should be able to touch the ground so they can 'take off' on their own. It also helps them feel more confident during an emergency stop. Once they gain more confidence, you can raise the seat but make sure at least one foot is still able to touch the ground while seated.
4. The learning turf
This is a crucial factor too. Firstly, find a quiet, traffic-free area (a park would be ideal) so you don't have to worry about cars and pedestrians.
Secondly, most of us make the common mistake of teaching our kids to cycle on grass, assuming that when they fall, it will be a softer landing. This is a ROOKIE MISTAKE. It takes a LOT MORE EFFORT to pedal on grass as opposed to a flat surface, making it more difficult for them to learn.
Preferably, choose a smooth surface like a tarmac.
5. The correct method: hold the bike or hold the child?
Another common misconception, one that I was guilty of too! We tend to hold onto the bike (one hand on the handlebars and the other onto the back of the seat) but this is, in fact, the wrong way to teach a child to balance. By doing this, we are moving the bike, and not letting the child be in control of it. Also, running alongside tends to wobble the bike, counteracting their balance.
The correct way is to in fact hold the child under the armpits. This way, they are in control of the bike, and you can help them balance and keep them from swaying to the sides. Bonus: your back won't ache either, as you aren't bending as much. We used the Biky Biky harness which was a great help – the loop at the back of the jacket allows you to keep a firm yet distanced grip on your child.
6. Look up, keep pedalling
To help your child maintain their balance, encourage them to look up (straight ahead) and not down at the wheel or their feet. Most kids tend to keep looking down (to check if their bike is going straight or to see if there are any obstacles on the path), but that only makes them swerve and wobble.
And while 'slow and steady' might be the mantra for a lot of things, in this case it is easier to keep momentum when pedalling faster. Basic rule of science: wheels need to be rotating to keep upright. The slower you go, the more unsteady you are.
7. What's the ideal age to teach your child to ride a bike?
Just like in everything else, every child learns at their own time and pace. Some pick it up in a day or three, others might take even a couple of weeks. Again, there is no exact age to learn, however experts state that between the ages of 4-6 years is the ideal age. Prior to that, they might find it a little difficult and later than that, the fear of falling sets in (and they become heavier to push around!!!). But the best advice would be to encourage your child and go at their pace.
Above all, let learning to bike be an enjoyable experience for your child, and following these tips will help you make the process as smooth as possible. Good luck!
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