Helping A Strong Willed Child Ride A Bike

by Andy Amick on September 26, 2013

in Cycling, Kids

Notice how the title does not start with “Teaching”.  With a strong willed, stubborn, independent child, it’s more about helping than teaching.

There are plenty of online resources such as REI and Bicycling.com  for teaching a kid to ride a bike.  It’s all laid out with step by step instructions.  However, some kids don’t like to follow the normal instructions.  They want to do things on their own terms and their own way.

Here’s my story of trying to teach my stubborn son to ride a bike only to realize that I was doing it wrong.

CastleRockBikePark

Trying To Teach

If I had it to do over again, I would have used Strider bikes for both of my kids.  But being stubborn myself, I figured I could teach my boys how to ride a bike without any issues since I ride all of the time.  Wrong!

My oldest son picked it up fairly easily with a week or two of focused practice and him listening to some of my instructions.  Hey, it’s parenting and we all find out that our kids don’t listen to much of what we have to say.

Things went quite differently with my youngest “I Got This” son.  He’s the kid that decided he needed his training wheels off because his big brother didn’t have any.  He didn’t have any real balance at this point, but he didn’t care.  Even after realizing he wasn’t quite ready, he still refused to put the training wheels back on.

Mixing a stubborn child with a stubborn dad often causes the dad to become frustrated and make things worse.  Yep, that’s me.  We practiced on the balance but it just wasn’t working.  I was trying to teach rather than help him and that’s when the frustration won out even when I knew better.  Let’s just say I put a little too much pressure on him and became too impatient.

Cooling Off

After my screw-up, my son lost interest in trying to ride his bike.  He would go out on his scooter while his brother was riding bikes.  Being the brilliant dad that I am (if only that were true), I learned from my mistake and didn’t push him to ride.  I would ask him from time to time if he wanted to try again.  The answer was usually “not today dad” or “I wanna ride my scooter instead”.

Over the summer, we still rode bikes, but he was on the tag-a-long.  We rode around the neighborhood, on some trails, around campgrounds, and even at some bike parks.  Let me rephrase that.  He sat on the tag-a-long and talked while I got an extra workout pedaling both of us up the hills.

BreckBikePark

My son was perfectly content with this arrangement.  We were “riding” bikes together and exploring.  The picture above was taken at a pump track in Breckenridge as he was running the track.  You know you have a strong willed and independent child when he’s doesn’t think it’s odd that he runs the pump track and does his jumps with his feet instead of a bike.  He was having a great time and there was no need to push him to ride his bike.

Becoming A Rider

About a month ago, a switch flipped with him and he asked me if we could go ride bikes. It had been at least 6 months since he had asked me to go ride bikes with him.  This time, he got it and the balance was there.

It only took a few minutes before he was riding around and around.  He wasn’t very steady, but he was riding.  Within a week, he was riding the trails at a local bike park and within two weeks he was standing on the pedals and powering up hills.

Now he wants to ride everyday, everywhere, and even in the rain.

Neighborhood3

Moral Of The Story

Did you notice how the “Becoming A Rider” section is so short?  That’s because there wasn’t really anything for me as the parent to do other than wait for him to be ready and then support him when he was.

The great Sheldon Brown put it nicely

It is important not to push too hard. This can be a real problem for children of active cyclists; excessive pressure can take all the fun out of the experience. A bicycle trailer or cargo tricycle lets you continue with family riding with a very young child.

If you have your own strong willed, independent, or stubborn child, give it time and be there to support their learning rather than pushing them.  They’re going to learn it their own way because that’s how they are wired.  You can either alienate them like I did or be there to encourage and support them.

About Andy Amick
A little bit nutty in general, a lotta bit nutty about bikes. Each of his boys received a bike helmet for their first birthday and the three of them have been biking together ever since.

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  • I’m going through the same thing with my 3 year old son. He gets so frustrated that he doesn’t even want to try. I got him a balance bike but he knew there was something different about his bike because it had no pedals…he wanted pedals like daddy. So we got him a regular bike with training wheels and he was doing well so we took them off and now he doesn’t want to ride it because we took “the wheels off”. I tried getting him back on the balance bike but he says those are for babies. Argh! I just need to work at his time, soon he will be enjoying his bike!

    • Andy Amick

      Melissa, ah the joys of a strong minded kid. It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time. Maybe he would want to be more like dad and keep riding with the “wheels off”. That’s funny that he doesn’t want a balance bike but he also doesn’t want the “wheels off”.

  • GREAT post – and good thoughts for lots of other stubborn parents out there!

    • Andy Amick

      Thanks Amelia. Eventually, stubborn parents learn patience, right?

  • Oh yes. Biking. Such a treat. I think it is the ultimate test of a parent’s patience. My stubborn little four year old made sure of that. However, a little bribery and a lot of patience later and he is doing great on two wheels. I blogged about it earlier this summer!! Glad he finally wanted to figure it out!!

    • Andy Amick

      Glad your four year old is now riding. It opens up so much for them when they can ride on their own. Before too long, we’re going to have trouble keeping up.

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