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Tips for Teaching Your Child to Pedal
Think back to your childhood. Zooming down the street on a bike made you feel as if you were flying. Teaching your child to ride may not seem so magical, but it's a rite of passage. If your child is ready to take off on two wheels, it's time to brush up on your teaching strategies.
Is Your Child Ready?
One thing to remember: Don't force it if your child's not ready. Whether it's tying shoes, potty training or riding a bike, if your little one isn't there yet, the skill takes much longer to master.
How do you know if your child is ready to ride a bike? Kids usually have the coordination around 4 to 6 years old. Some can handle it at age 3, while others may not be ready until 7.
Kids who aren't quite ready often have difficulty pedaling forward consistently. They may pedal backward or slide their feet off the pedals. Work with your child for 10 to 15 minutes. If he shows no progress in learning how to pedal forward, try again in a few weeks.
Start With Training Wheels
Kids' bikes usually come equipped with training wheels. They give your child a feeling of security, and they're good to help learn how to sit on the bike. One drawback to training wheels is that your child doesn't learn how to balance since the wheels keep the bike upright. There's nothing wrong with using training wheels, but it may take your child a little longer to balance once you take off the training wheels.
Starting With a Balance Bike
A balance bike is a small bike with no pedals. The purpose of the bike is to get your child used to balancing and steering. Balance bikes are low to the ground, so your child can sit on the seat with her feet flat on the ground.
Kids usually start by walking the bike while they sit on the seat. As your child gets comfortable, she can go faster and lift her feet off the ground to cruise. The bike requires balance, but it's also low enough that she can easily put her feet down if she feels unsteady.
Don't want to buy another bike for your little one? You can turn her existing bike into a balance bike. Remove the pedals, and lower the seat down as far as it goes. Once she masters balancing, put the pedals back on the bike.
Transitioning to a Regular Bike
Check the seat height on the bike first. Pedaling is easiest when just the balls of your child's feet touch the ground while seated. If it's so low that the feet are flat on the ground while seated, your child may struggle to pedal.
Brace the bike by straddling the back tire, keeping it firmly between your legs. This lets your child position himself comfortably without the bike swaying. Help him position his feet on the pedals.
Many parents hold onto the bike to stabilize it, but holding your child under his armpits is often easier. You can keep your child safe, and he has to do more of the balancing work himself. If the bike starts tipping, you can lift your child up and out of the way to avoid a fall.
Walk with your child, holding under his armpits. Let him steer and do at least some of the balancing. Eventually, he may start to balance the bike on his own. Run next to him when he takes off, so you can catch him if he tips. A fall can scare a child from trying the bike again.
Stopping is another skill you need to teach your child. Kids tend to press or squeeze the brakes hard, which can jerk them forward. On a bike with hand brakes, have your child walk next to the bike while pushing it. Have him squeeze the brake. If he squeezes hard, tell him to try squeezing it gradually. Repeat the process until he gets the hang of braking gently and gradually.
You can use the same concept with brakes on the pedals. Have him pedal while you hold him under his armpits. Tell him to practice pressing backward gently on the pedals to slow the bike.
Once he's comfortable with starting, balancing and stopping, you can let him ride on his own without running next to him. He may have some falls, but having those skills in place makes it easier to ride with success.
Tips for Teaching a Hesitant Child
Some kids are fearless. Others are a little hesitant to take off on a bike without training wheels. Don't force your child to ride. Stay calm and encouraging. Avoid the temptation to yell at your child or compare her to other kids. Encourage her to continue trying, but give her breaks if she seems overwhelmed.
Safety is always a concern for parents. Bike safety just takes a little thought and preparation, so you can avoid a trip to the ER while your little one learns to ride a bike.
Keep these safety tips in mind:
- Buy a helmet that fits snugly, with no more than 1 inch of movement when pushed side to side or front to back. It should be level and hit the middle of the forehead at 1 inch or less above your child's eyebrows. Gloves and pads also can help keep her safe, but some kids may find them distracting.
- Choose a bike that fits your child now instead of a larger bike she can grow into. She should be able to stand, straddling the bike with both feet flat on the ground.
- Teach her to ride on flat ground in an open area away from traffic. An empty basketball court at the park is a good option.
- Tuck her shoelaces into her shoes to prevent them from getting caught in the wheels. Pants that fit tightly around the ankles also make bike riding safer.
Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.