Skinned knees — and mom and dad huffing and puffing behind you — were historically part of the equation, but there are simpler ways to teach your child to ride a bike. Give these seven tips a try to get your child cruising down the road solo in no time.
1. REMOVE THE TRAINING WHEELS AND LOWER THE SEAT
Before your child learns to pedal a bike, they’ll need to perfect balancing. Dedicated balance bikes are a great idea for children starting out, but a regular bike works, too. Just remove the training wheels and lower the seat enough so your child can place his or her feet flat on the ground when needed. Lowering the seat also helps remove some of the fear your child may have of falling, since all they’ll need to do is place their feet on the ground when they start to wobble.
2. FIND A GRASSY AREA
While most people opt for a neighborhood street or the sidewalk at a local park, finding a grassy area with a gentle downward slope is the way to go. The bike won’t roll as fast as it would on pavement, and if your child takes a spill, the impact won’t be as traumatizing. Ideally, the spot you pick will be about 20–30 meters long, with a gentle decline. This allows your child to ride down the slope without having to worry about pedaling.
To practice balancing, have your child scoot the bike down the slope with his or her feet. As your child picks up speed they can practice coasting by lifting their feet off the ground.
3. DON’T HOLD ONTO THE BIKE
Holding on to the back of the bike seat while your child practices is standard practice. However, this can throw off your child’s balance. Let go of the back of the seat and walk behind them instead. Since the seat is lowered, your child can keep his or her feet close to the ground as they scoot down the grassy slope and correct themselves as needed.
4. KEEP YOUR CHILD RELAXED AND HAVING FUN
At first, riding a bike can feel awkward and dangerous to some children. While your child practices balancing by coasting, make sure your child is relaxed and having fun. Try not to put any pressure on them to learn too fast. Provide encouragement and practice only as long your child wants to. If he or she becomes frustrated, you can always try again the following day.
5. HAVE YOUR CHILD LOOK FORWARD INSTEAD OF DOWN
Looking down at the road or your feet is common for learning to balance, but this actually makes it more difficult to stay upright. Instead, teach your child to look ahead at where they are going. This makes balancing less difficult and eases the transition to the road where they’ll need to keep their head up to look for obstacles.
6. AFTER BALANCE IS ACHIEVED, PRACTICE PEDALING
Once your child can safely balance down the grassy slope, you can begin to practice pedaling. Stay on the same grassy area you practiced balancing and encourage your child to begin placing his or her feet on the pedals once they roll for a few meters and gain speed. If your child used training wheels, the pedaling motion shouldn’t be too foreign. If they used a balance bike, you might need to teach them the basics of pushing down on the front pedal and beginning from the stopped position with one pedal in the 2 o’clock position and the other foot on the ground.
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While most children pick this up fairly quickly, stay positive and encourage your child even if they’re having trouble at first. Practice as many days as it takes for your child to gain comfort.
7. DON’T FORGET STEERING AND STOPPING
Once you get your child moving, you’re halfway there. After balancing and pedaling are out of the way, steering and stopping are two skills your child needs to master to ride safely on their own. To practice steering, set up a few cones in the same grassy area. Have your child practice turns and weaving in and out of figure eights. Staying on the grass protects your child in case of a fall.
For stopping, place the cones at the bottom of the hill and have them practice using the coaster or the hand brake to come to a complete stop at the designated spot. Once they’ve got the basics down, try making a game of it. Play red light, green light or another activity that’s fun and doesn’t focus on mistakes to help them practice safe braking. Before you know it, they’ll be ready to cruise the neighborhood.