By Vicki Little
I never knew that teaching my children to ride a bike would require so much patience. And just when you think they are good enough to ride their bikes to school – BAM, something happens. It can be frustrating for kids as well as their parents, who want so much to see them safely get the hang of it. Some kids may learn quickly, but others may require a little more practice before ditching the training wheels for good. After teaching my two kids to ride bikes, I learned a few things along the way that can make the process go more smoothly. Hopefully, these tips will make your child’s milestone moment more enjoyable:
1) Size the bike. A wrong-sized bike will make it hard to learn to ride. Children’s bicycles are measured by the wheel diameter, and there are some basic guidelines to help you find the right fit. Consumer Search suggests having your child sit on the seat and hold the handlebars, seated in the position in which they will ride. While in this position, their feet should be flat on the ground. On average, a child between the ages of:
- 3 and 5 will use a 12″ tire
- 4 and 7 will use a 16″ tire
- 5 and 10 will use a 20″ tire
- 8 and 14 will use a 24″ tire
2) Start by taking the pedals off. Seems a bit backwards, but this helps your child learn how it feels to balance their bike without risking falling off. They should sit on the seat and hold the handlebars as normal, but use their feet to push the bike. As they get used to it, encourage them to lift their feet off the ground for as long as they can. Eventually, they will be able to go down a hill and not put their feet on the ground. This is when they will be ready to put pedals back on.
3) Have them wear an old shirt and hold on. It was much easier for my daughter if I held on to the back of her shirt instead of her bike or her neck. I could help her get steady and help push her to go, and she had a harder time telling when I took my hand away. That way she didn’t freak out when I wasn’t holding on.
4) No squealing. I learned this the hard way. Every time my kids got close or rode for the littlest bit, I would get excited and cheer. And then they would get startled and stop pedaling or fall off. It is harder than you think not to cheer, but wait until they have fallen or stopped riding to compliment them. I also recommend telling them why you are doing this to avoid them getting upset because they think you aren’t watching. Again, I learned this the hard way.
5) Ride on the grass. I know that we are supposed to teach our children not to ride on the grass but if you have a park nearby with a large area of grass take advantage of it. The grass helps to keep the bike steadier and will hurt less when they fall. We found the perfect place with a sidewalk all around a big area of grass. My kids were able to start pedaling on the sidewalk to get some momentum, and then went through the grass to get used to pedaling while balancing.
6) Use the Curb. Once my children learned how to stay balanced, we discovered another challenge. Starting the bike itself was hard for them. I started to have them use their feet to get the bike moving first, which worked well for my son. And my mom told me when I was learning to ride a bike, I started with one foot on the curb so it was easier to reach the pedal after I got started. It worked.
7) Try small hills first. Once they get the hang of pedaling and balancing on even ground, find some gentle hills. Going downhill is definitely easier, but the speed can scare your new rider. Try small hills first so they can learn to brake and coast and build their leg muscles, and then move on to larger hills to get used to riding faster. If you have a hill your child is having a hard time getting up, just gently push them on their back to get them started.
8) Hit the sidewalk hard. No, I don’t mean let them fall and hurt themselves, I mean have them ride on the sidewalk instead of the street. You may be surprised to find that they find this much harder than in the street because they have to steer their bike and keep it straight. They will also learn how to avoid obstacles such as trash cans and rocks.
9) Wear heavy backpacks. My kids had been riding their bikes for a few weeks before we attempted to ride to school. That first time was frustrating because it was as if they forgot how to ride a bike all together. The extra weight on their backs caused them to lose their balance and forget to steer. You will also want to make sure their backpacks don’t have straps hanging down that can get caught in the tires.
10) Bite your tongue…a LOT. You know your child, and you know what they are capable of. So when one day they ride like a pro and the next they can’t stay up to save their life, you will get frustrated. Unfortunately, I told my daughter more than once “what are you doing?” or “you have already done this, why can’t you do it now?” before I realized that these comments were only destructive and making her flustered, making her mess up even more. So I bit my tongue and got some canker sores and smiled a whole lot. And soon I was biting my tongue less and less.
And absolutely do not forget to have your child always wear a helmet of the right size. In the beginning, knee, elbow and hand guards help immensely. Also, be sure to have some Band-Aids and Neosporin on hand.
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, reading, camping, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.
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