Riding a bicycle is one of the great joys of childhood. For many kids, however, learning to ride a bicycle for the first time can be both difficult and intimidating. To help take some of the fear and apprehension out of figuring out how to balance on a bike, many kids are now using what are known as “balance bikes”. A balance bike is simply a bike without pedals. Without pedals, feet can stay firmly on the ground. The child moves the bike forward by scooting, or running while seated. Once the bike gets going fast enough, the child can lift their feet and start to feel and master the ability to remain balanced as they move.
My daughter, who is in second grade, still couldn’t ride a bike a week ago. Her older brother recommended that we try using this balance bike idea. Not having a balance bike in the garage, he decided to build her one by removing the pedals and chain from an old bike we had lying around. Within an hour, my daughter was riding a regular bike.
Before beginning to teach your child to ride, it’s important to ask a few questions. First and foremost, does the child express an interest in learning to ride a bike? The child must be motivated to learn this, at first, difficult task. The second question to ask, is the child physically ready to learn this task? Are they strong enough? Do they have adequate balance and coordination? Finally, is the child mentally ready? Are they so overwhelmed by a fear of falling, that they won’t be able to even adequately try?
Parents can improve how effective they are at teaching their child to ride a bike by keeping the pressure off. Be patient. Keep it fun. Avoid being overly critical and instead point out the child’s successes and heavily praise their efforts. Keep instructions simple and start with the basics like just going forward. Of course, kids will need to learn it all: starting from a dead stop, steering and turning, braking, and going up and down hills, but they can’t possibly learn all of these skills instantly and simultaneously. Give them only what they can handle and build from there.
All children should wear a properly fitted helmet for safety, and the bike shouldn’t be either too big or too small. Training wheels are great for beginners to give them an opportunity to feel what it’s like to ride, but the use of training wheels should be limited and brief to ensure they do not get overly reliant on them.
Learning to ride a bike is a joy in its own right, but the process of learning to ride a bike is so much more than that. Going through the process, the child begins to develop the traits of hard work and perseverance. They get to understand what it feels like to work through their fears and, more importantly, why working through fear is sometimes both necessary and good. Finally, biking is a baby step for them towards their own independence. Once the parent lets go of that seat for the last time, that child is not only taking control of that task, but in small part, taking control of a little bit more of their lives.