Ah, the first bike ride! A joyful rite of passage, right? For parents, it just doesn’t get better than running alongside, steadying the small bike, giving a push and…Look at our kid go! Or…not.
If your child is anxious (heck, if you are anxious), learning how to ride a bike can be stressful. The first few times my husband and I tried to teach our daughters to bike it pretty much started with whimpering and ended in howling (our daughters’ and our own).
Often, kids believe if they were “naturally” good at something it would be easy for them, and if bicycling is daunting they must not be cut out for it. In biking, and in life, the key lies in facing our fears, persisting through discomfort, and practicing until the new becomes natural. How to teach a kid to ride a bike tutorials abound online but if it seems implausible that your nervous child will ever take off on two wheels, don’t despair. In trying to overcome my own fears and help my kids rein in theirs for my book Some Nerve, we all learned to bike and gained some valuable life lessons along the way. Here are my 9 tips for getting reluctant riders to ride:
1. Get help.
Although most of us imagined coaching our kids through this milestone, in reality parents may not be the best at this particular job.
Kids and parents carry all kinds of baggage. My husband is a natural athlete. I had a terrible fear of biking and crashing. Together we produced a ridiculous mash-up of “C’mon, just do it!” impatience and “Be careful, slow down!” mixed messaging. When we called out “LOOK UP, LOOK UP” our kids probably heard:
“LOOK UP, YOU’RE GOING TO CRASH!”
“WHY DON’T YOU LISTEN TO ME?!?!”
“THIS ISN’T HARD, WHY CAN’T YOU GET THIS?”
“THIS IS WAY TOO HARD… LOOK UP!”
On the other hand, if a teacher, neighbor, favorite aunt or friend calls out “LOOK UP” without all the history the child hears simply: “LOOK UP.” For us, enrolling our kids in a Bike New York “Learn to Ride” bike class took much of the emotional anxiety out of the equation. Without the fear of disappointing mom or dad, they were free to simply follow directions and learn. And we were free to take pictures and cheer!