Teaching A Nervous Child To Ride A Bike

Grit & Glamour Club_Teaching A Nervous Child To Ride A Bike

In any childhood, riding a bike is a right of passage. With my boys, I wanted to teach them as soon as possible. Daydreaming about sunny days spent riding bikes and exploring. In reality, teaching a nervous child to ride a bike has been the opposite to what I expected.

Some kids take riding their bikes like ducks to water, while others require plenty of patience and guidance. My 7-year-old falls into the latter category and it’s been quite a challenge to get him out and on. Most of the time when the ‘it’s a nice day, shall we go out on our bikes’ line was casually mentioned, all hell would break loose! On a fair few occasions, we didn’t even get out as his stubbornness and worry would take hold.

In terms of handling his worry, I’ve made some mistakes along the way. Here are some tips for teaching a nervous child to ride a bike. 

Don’t force them to learn

Even if we are eager to achieve this milestone, if the child doesn’t feel ready because they lack confidence or feel anxious about it, while this feeling is strong, you don’t have a chance. It’s important they feel that you are being led by their own feelings, not ours. I’ve definitely made the mistake of pushing things.

At our local National Trust park with big open paths, he would refuse to get on the bike. As I would encourage him in a pushy way, he would become frustrated, as would I. Then he would do it (he was skilled on the balance bike so was able to do the actual riding quickly). But there was no joy involved. The situation usually ended with him asking how much longer every couple of minutes. Then, falling off without reaching for his breaks and ultimately leaving upset.

When your child has had enough for the day, end the session. We may see that they seem to have it, but if they don’t feel it from within, forcing them to step beyond their comfort zone will not work. If they refuse entirely, there’s always a next time. For our family, pushing that little bit too much kept my eldest son off his bike for almost a year.

Timing is everything

As with all things that involve a child, good timing is key to activity success. Don’t venture out at a time when your child might start getting peckish for lunch or dinner. If you’re entering the tired zone, it’s virtually impossible to keep things positive and on track. For us going after breakfast is a good time and is a time, we see the most success, and the least pushback. Remember too to pack those snacks!

Stay positive

If you have a nervous child like mine, the worry of letting anyone down can be pretty paralysing. No matter how it’s going, remain positive and encouraging. Keep instructions simple and avoid repeating them constantly. ‘You’re doing it’ ‘look ahead’ ‘pedal’ whatever your instruction, keep it short and sweet. Don’t say things like ‘it’s easy’ or ‘just do it’. Basically, as long as they are trying, that’s good enough. Boosting their self-esteem is all that matters, so listen to their concerns and talk about worries so you can provide the reassurance they need.

Ensure the bike is comfortable

When teaching a nervous child to ride a bike, going bigger is tempting (it will last longer, right?), but this is a mistake I have made myself. It will be harder for them to feel in control if the bike is even just one size bigger. And if their confidence is already lacking, it can be a recipe for disaster. At the bike’s lowest setting, your child should be able to place their feet firmly on the ground. This will prevent them from having to stop and land on their tiptoes, which will make an anxious child feel anything but relaxed. They need to feel like they are in charge of the bike and not vice versa, in order to build on that lack of confidence. You can find the right size bike for your child, here.

Remove pedals

Take off the pedals if you have to, especially if they are used to the balance bike. Practicing just gliding can be really helpful for teaching a nervous child to ride a bike. They can feel in control without having to worry about steering, peddling, or breaking at the same time. Whenever you praise them, they will naturally want to build on this feeling. If your child is reluctant to ride a bike, try taking your own into the park. If they see you enjoying yourself, this can help remove some of their worries. 

Set timeframes

I’m always asked by my eldest son how long activities last, what we’re doing in the coming week, and how things are planned. He likes to know where he stands with everything, as this makes him feel comfortable. Bike learning is no different. Currently, I give him that half-hour window, then we go to the park or wherever he wants to go (within reason). 

My eldest is 7 and his brother is 5 (currently riding the balance bike and completely fearless), so we allocate 30 minutes. The last time we went, we actually ended up doing it for about an hour, as his mind wasn’t on time. At the moment we are working on him setting off on his own, which he’s done a handful of times now, so we’re building on that and it’s working well so far. 

Don’t let go too soon

Although it can be tempting to let go when you feel they have it, only let go when they tell you to. When you go too soon and they haven’t given you permission, the trust will be broken and it will take them a long time to rebuild it. If they are trusting you to hold on, do so. Usually, teaching a nervous child to ride a bike involves more mental than physical barriers. 

In addition, it’s okay to add a little incentive if the child puts in the effort or is willing to venture out without the tears; I promise mine an ice cream no matter what the weather, which works quite well, especially if all they need is a little push.

We may find it difficult at first, but when the day comes (and it will) that you see them push off happy and confident on their bike, it will all be worth it, and you will feel great for helping them get there.  

Grit & Glamour Club is where you’ll find my latest posts. Think chatting to a good friend and expect to read articles on motherhood, self-care and work-life, home-life balance.

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