I have definitely figured out what works and what is the kindest way to teach a child. We really don’t want to freak them out right up front. If they crash on pavement early into their bike riding, they will be very hesitant to get back on the bike. Let me tell you, I’ve fallen onto the street a couple of times as an adult and it really does hurt, for a long time.
First, do let them ride with training wheels for a while to get a feel for the bike. Then when they really express interest in riding a bike without the training wheels, it’s time to learn.
If you have to force them, they are probably not ready yet (or you’ve waited too long and they have enough common sense to know how much it will hurt when they fall onto concrete).
Always, always, always wear a helmet when you ride and always insist the child wears a helmet when they ride. No helmet, no bike. As a parent, you can’t tell them to wear a helmet if you never do. Well, I guess you can, but they will figure things out quickly. They are smart. I fell once while riding very slowly on the street. I had a helmet on yet still suffered a mild concussion. One of my friends claims that my memory hasn’t been the same since. Serious stuff. Wear a helmet.
Drive them or otherwise get them to a grassy location with a gently sloping hill. Make sure there is no chance they will ride over anything but grass for a while. Make sure there are no obstacles anywhere close by. Before you start, teach them how the brakes work and explain that they can brake and then hop off the bike. Or they can let the bike come to a complete stop and fall of the side for now. Their bike may have brakes on the pedals (coaster brakes) on the handlebars, or both. Make sure they know how to use them, wherever they are.
Put the bike on top of the gently sloping hill. Put the child on the bike. Hold the seat and run behind for a while and then let go. Hold your breath and see what happens. Be sure to not hold onto the handlebars. The child needs to steer. If the child holds the handlebars up front, you know he/she has a good grip on them.
One important thing to tell the child is that if they are not moving fast enough, they will fall over. Pedaling is important, especially on a flat surface. So tell them to pedal, pedal, pedal.
Practice this over and over until the child is too tired to do it anymore. Go home and rest.
Next time you are ready to practice, go to the same hill and repeat the above steps for a while. You will probably already see improvement in how the child can balance. If it has gotten to the point that the uneven ground is too hard to pedal on and the child’s balance is good, it’s probably time to move on to the sidewalk.
Make sure the child has their helmet, of course, and some knee pads and wrist pads at a minimum. Elbow pads are probably a good idea, too. They will fall a lot so if they have pads on, it might not hurt as much and they will get back up on the bike and try again. Put them on as flat a sidewalk as you can find and make sure it is fairly even (i.e., no variation in the height of the sidewalk blocks). Hold the seat and run behind them for a bit and then let go. Do not let them ride in the street at this point.
After quite a while, maybe even a year or two, choose a quiet neighborhood with little traffic. Get on your bike, wearing a helmet. Ride on the inside of the child. In other words, force the child to get off to the right – in the U.S., anyway – by riding on their left and make sure you stay in your lane.
Teach Them These Things
- How to use hand signals to indicate cyclist’s intentions.
- How to stop at stop signs and look both ways: look left, right, and then left again.
- They should beware of alleys, as cars can dart out very unexpectedly.
- They should be carful around parked cars. Drivers can open doors suddenly and the child can crash right into the door.
- How to rely on their eyes and ears to spot traffic, people, and dogs.
- No iPods and no cell phones while cycling. Ever.
Good luck to you!
Dawn Attebery, of Dawn Michelle Photography, is a child, family and high school senior photographer who brings her specialty for fine portraiture and personal service to the homes and on-site locations of her clients throughout the greater North Dallas area
Any views or opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent MomsOutLoud.com.