My daughter learned to ride her bike when she was 5 – on her birthday — and then decided to retire from bike riding. Now, almost two years later, she has decided to take up cycling again.
Step 1: Have a bike.
Despite the misconception that many people have, you can’t just pick any old bike. Size matters. You need to make sure that the bike is the right size for your child.
Step 2: Show your kid the brakes.
It’s a great feeling to ride fast and have the wind rip through your
scalp hair. It’s not such a great feeling when you realize that you can’t stop without smashing it into an immovable object. Blunt force trauma is not a good option for stopping. This is a physics lesson that your child should learn in a classroom not physically.
Step 3: Wear a helmet!
It is non-negotiable in our home. Again, size matters – make sure the helmet fits the head securely. If it slides, it won’t protect. If you are paranoid, like I am, then go ahead and purchase some elbow and knee pads as well, but the helmet is paramount.
And, this may seem confusing, but I am only advocating the use of a helmet by the child not the adult. For dads, uncles or other male teachers, I suggest the use of a cup, pads and gloves, but that’s not what this tutorial is about. Before the bike moves, there should be a helmet on that child’s head. This is the bicycle equivalent of a seat belt.
Step 4: Let her fall.
This is an important step. In professional wrestling, and stunt school, one of the first lessons that they teach you is how to fall. This is to minimize injury. In the case of the child, not only is it meant to reduce the risk of injury, but it also provides an opportunity for the child to see that they will survive a fall. Now, I’m not talking about letting them fall while traveling at a high speed, but at some point you have to let go of the bike so they can learn to balance. As they learn the lesson of balance, sometimes gravity wins, and that is OK. Be prepared with bandages and Popsicles. Learning to fall properly is an important lesson.
Step 5: Cheer.
Whether your kid pedals on the first attempt, or falls with each try: cheer. This is an important life lesson for them. Not only are they learning to ride a bike, they are learning to figuratively picked themselves up when they fail. They aren’t going to be perfect in cycling or life. Reinforce that failure is okay – it’s how we learn. Keep in mind that this type of failure could potentially be painful, however.
Step 6: Remind her to watch the road.
There are all sorts of obstacles – rocks, cars, sticks, little brothers, etc. Make sure your rider knows to keep her head up and to watch where she is going. When she pedals successfully for the first time she will want to turn and smile and shout at you. Tell her to go ahead and smile and shout, but keep her eyes on the road. Where the head goes the bike goes.
Step 7: Give her space.
Like it or not, your child has just accomplished something. An ability to transport herself without your assistance. Let her enjoy it. Remind her of the dangers, but not to scare her, and also remind her of the fun. Then take a minute, step back, and watch that ear to ear smile as she rides. Also realize that this is one step closer to driving a car. We will get to those lessons later though – much later.
A version of this first appeared on Tales From the Poop Deck.