Teaching kids to ride a bike is one of the most formative experiences you can have with them (it’s a pretty big moment for you too!). Of course, you may not remember what it’s like to learn how to ride a bike and this can make teaching the skill difficult.
The stakes don’t seem too high here, but as formative as this experience can be, it can also become an obstacle for your child’s confidence. If you don’t teach them right and they repeatedly fail, get scraped up, and lose confidence, it can turn a great bonding experience into a hurtful lesson learned. You don’t want any kid to grow up already thinking that they can’t learn things.
That’s why these tips on teaching kids how to ride a bike can come in handy. Whether you don’t remember (or never learned yourself) or you just want to make sure the experience is the positive learning opportunity it should be, these tips and tricks will help you be the mom or dad of the hour when it comes to their new skill.
The new training wheels
You probably remember using training wheels when you learned to ride a bike. They’re a great way to instill confidence and keep your child safe … at first. The problem with training wheels is that they have to come off eventually and they don’t do a lot to teach kids the balance required to hold a bike upright. They’re more often a crutch than a training tool.
That’s why you want to use the “glide method,” a new teaching tool that sports educators are insisting on to teach kids how to ride a bike. In this method, you use your child’s own feet as the training wheels so they get a feel for the balance needed to keep the bike upright.
To use the glide method, remove the pedals from the bike and lower the seat until your child can put their feet on the ground while sitting. Then, push the bike forward and let them “scoot” forward with their feet. They will start to push off, lift their feet, then put them back down to feel safe. If it’s working, they’ll wait longer and longer to rely on their feet again as they learn the right balance.
This is a more intuitive way to teach balance and doesn’t require that scary transition, where the training wheels come OFF.
Get the right bike
Certainly, not every budget allows for many choices when it comes to the bike that your kids will learn to ride. However, there are two important factors that you should consider when choosing one for them: the size and their own opinion about it.
The first thing is obvious. Their legs need to be able to touch the ground while seated and they need to feel okay reaching the handlebars and pedals. None of these other tips will help if the bike is too big for them, which isn’t safe to ride. Follow these guidelines from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on basic bike safety.
Secondly, if they hate the bike, they won’t want to ride it. Even though your budget is small, a boy that doesn’t want to ride a pink bike will probably never learn. Little things like a sparkly bell or stickers that you can buy online could be cheap ways of letting your child make a used bike their own, encouraging them to want to learn it.
Read this article to find some of the best balance bikes available. At least you’ll have some choices to work with and budget for.
Be there for them
This is an essential tip to teaching kids how to ride a bike, certainly, but it applies to pretty much all of their learning activities. You need to support them. Instead of pushing them off and watching them go (and probably fall), you need to be a “movie” mom or dad.
That means jogging beside them, encouraging them, holding the seat, and balancing them when they wobble. All of this is essential encouragement to helping them get confident on their bike, which, as you may remember, is the most essential hurdle in learning to ride one. Lacking confidence means lacking balance.
… but not too much
We love that you want to help teach your kids how to ride their bikes. Maybe you learned how to do that from us. However, you can overdo this part of the advice. If you try to push them too hard or make them do too much too fast, this can discourage them from learning to ride their bike.
Teaching kids to ride a bike isn’t easy and will probably require your encouragement. But it will also require your patience. This means knowing when to let up on the encouragement, stop pushing, and take a break.
This is for overprotective parents as well. You might as well learn now that you can’t hold onto their bike seat forever. As much as it seems like they need you, one way in which they need you when you’re teaching them to ride a bike is the need to feel like they did something on their own.
Teaching kids to ride a bike should be a safe and rewarding bonding experience for you and your child. You want to make sure you’re following proper safety guidelines (like these from KidsHealth) before you set out, but there’s more to teaching a kid how to ride a bike than the right helmet.
You need the right attitude. You’re going to have to find the proper balance between teacher, coach, and worried parent when you’re doing this, knowing when to encourage, when to push, and when to back off. As encouraging as this experience could be, it could also hurt your kid’s confidence (and knees) if you don’t take the right emotional stance with them.
These tips should help get you in the right frame of mind. Just keep in mind that if neither of you is having any fun at all, it’s okay to call it a day and try again later.