Teaching a child to ride a bike must be one of the toughest activities. It certainly has been in our house. “Parent fail” reverberates in my head when my daughter tearfully says she doesn’t want to ride her bike.
We started with a pedal-less strider bike, which was great for her to learn to balance and master momentum. I thought the transition to the pedal bike would be no problem, as other parents had said it was so much easier after some time on a strider bike. I spent weeks running and holding on to her, and it didn’t feel easier. It felt like the brink of a disaster.
I knew she could do it. She did not.
Related read: How to teach kids how to pedal their bikes properly
The day did arrive when I could gradually hold on with a softer touch and then let go and she could ride alone. It turned out the main thing holding her back with biking was confidence. This is a child who’s pretty confident in most things, so it was a bit surprising to realize that her limiting factor with biking was her lack of belief in herself.
Fast forward to today and she’s riding a mountain bike. We’ve done a Pedalheads bike camp and a mountain bike camp. We ride with her and we encourage her. We spend time biking as a family. She can ride all sorts of terrain, but confidence is still our biggest challenge.
If she doesn’t think about it, she’s fine and rides proficiently. But if she does think about it, then she panics and we cycle back to a meltdown and another “parent fail” feeling while I try to figure out what I’m doing wrong.
But we keep testing out slightly harder trails so she can feel how well she does. We’re supportive—we reward her success and her trying. We model technique and we make it social with her friends.
Related read: The confidence formula
One day, we’ll look back at this phase and the struggle will be a distant memory. While we’re in it, however, it’s hard to know what else to do to create success and positive experiences to help a child gain confidence.
As I recently read in Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly, “There really is no effort without error and shortcoming, and there really is no triumph without vulnerability.” Parenting often feels rife with vulnerability, errors, and shortcomings, but I’m confident one day we’ll get to the triumphs.
One response to “For new cyclists, developing confidence is key”
Andrea, love your article. If there is a pump track near your home, it would be worth a visit, especially if it is a kid-sized.
I was recently in Whistler, BC, where the beginner and the big kids pump tracks are side by side. On one track the kids were flying through the air. On the smaller track the less experienced kids (as young as 3 on strider bikes) were experimenting, falling, trying again and succeeding from time to time. There was obvious camaraderie between the kids, as they supported one another and shared tips. The parents cheered them on and mostly stayed out of the way as the kids figured things out. It was fascinating to watch.
Pump tracks are a great place for kids to fall in love with biking because they can see other kids at various stages and are motivated to try skills that other kids are modelling.
Ever since watching those kids in Whistler, I have been encouraging families in my neighbourhood to visit pump tracks. The same skills that the kids develop on pump tracks make them better riders on streets and on trails.
So much fun and you can’t check social media while you are riding a bike!!