My son had a very traumatic bike riding experience last year. He had a serious bike crash which left him with a bloodied face, grazes and loose teeth (new adult teeth too!). He forgot to hop off his bike down quite a steep decline and despite Daddy yelling out to him frantically and trying to catch up to him to prevent it, he lost control and went head first in to a metal pole….the metal pole to the face and head was bad enough, but we wondered if it could have been much worse, because if he had been 10 centimetres further over to the right he would have gone down a very sharp deep ditch and in to a rocky creek, so I guess we were very lucky it wasn’t worse.
We ended up with him in hospital, and despite a heavily bruised face, terrible injuries to his mouth, a very bad knock to the head and the wobbly teeth which would eventually tighten back up again – thankfully he healed up well over time. The emotional healing was a much harder hurdle…..
My son did not want to go on the bike “ever again” and most definitely not back to that place where he crashed, we had not used the bike very much since that awful day, as much as we all wanted to “get back on the horse”, we all had to get our confidence back and have time to let all that fear and anxiety settle down.
Finally, one day I saw a little boy quite a bit younger than my son riding confidently without training wheels and I felt guilty that I hadn’t tried harder to encourage my son to try to ride the bike more. He had not wanted to get on the bike, and I definitely was not going to force him, but I wondered if I had failed him by not encouraging him a little more to try again, and truthfully, I am not sure who was more scared of trying to ride the bike again, me or him. The thought of my son in that hospital all bruised, battered and bloody, just sent shivers down my spine every time and brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t know if I could bear trying again any time soon…..but seeing that other little boy zooming around the park so confidently that day reminded me how much resilience, confidence and determination children are born with – Lord knows I should have remembered how resilient and determined they are from when they were babies and fought going to sleep with such resolve!!
I became determined that we going to give it another go, yes – he will probably fall, yes – he might get a little bump or bruise and YES – he might just ALSO learn that bike riding is REALLY fun and that you don’t ALWAYS have terrible bike crashes, and as a matter of fact, practising more can help you not crash badly like that again.
So off to the local grassy reserve we go, complete with bike helmet – and unbeknown to my child – a whopping handful of band aids, and the camera….just in case he actually could do it, although in my head I felt this was going to be a long road given the circumstances.
My husband removed the training wheels, made sure the helmet was on securely, and we found a safe starting point away from obstacles, concrete and other children. My husband stood very close to my son standing with his bike ready to give him a pep talk……I could hear my heartbeat doing a dramatic drum roll to complete the scene…….and before my husband even had time to do the pep talk and give him some tips on what to do and what not to do, my son started pedalling!! And pedalling……AND PEDALLING!!!!!!!! AND NOT FALLING OFF!! WITH NO TRAINING WHEELS!!! WHAT???? Are you serious??? How could this be true?? ALL this time I had been dreading THIS moment???
OH. MY. GOODNESS.
He was doing it……actually doing it….all by himself…….first go nonetheless….no pep talk, no hints, no problems!!
He only wobbled a little, then regained his balance alone, my husband never even had to run alongside holding on to the bike which I thought my son might need to build his confidence, he just stayed close in case he fell just the first time he tried it, but not for long – because my boy was OFF!! And so was I! Bawling like a little baby! Cue tears and tissues for a moment or two….then I started smiling and couldn’t stop when I heard my boy yelling out excitedly with pride,
“I’m doing it!! I’m doing it!! I can’t believe it, I am doing it all by myself!! I’m doing iiiiiiiiiiitttttttt!!!!!!!!!!!!”
So, all this anxiety, all this fear, all this stalling to try again had come to this. This beautiful happy moment, this milestone in a young person’s life, that I had dreamed of for so long was finally here. His confidence was here. His fear was gone. My fear was gone….
He rode around on that grassy oval for almost an hour and only had a little unbalanced wobble and small fall off once and he didn’t even hurt himself, I was quite far away at that point, when I saw it happen, I didn’t react in a panic even though my heart sank, I just stood there “looking” calm, anxiously waiting to gauge his reaction, he didn’t even look up at me, he just got up, brushed off the dirt and then got straight back on his bike and rode off again….wow…..
So if we can do it, others can too and I thought that I would share a few tips that helped us to build up to this day and some tips that might help you to lose those training wheels fast too!! I think for us, making the decision to actually give it a go and build up the courage to do it, was by far the longest part of the process!
Here are a few tips that can help you to lose those training wheels fast!
- Find a large, grassy area with no obstacles with fairly flat, grassy ground. Grass has more resistance than concrete therefore making it a slower and steadier ride in the early stages and helps them to feel steadier and safer, plus grass isn’t as intimidating or painful as concrete. Encouraging your child to glide down a small, grassy slope can also help them learn to balance their bike.
- Insist upon a helmet and also offer your child elbow pads, wrist guards and knee pads if it helps you all feel more comfortable and confident. My little guy didn’t want them and said it was too hard to ride with them as they restricted his movement. But having these on can help them to feel safer and avoid grazes if they are fearful of that. My child knows the helmet is not an option, but I let him decide on the rest depending on how confident he felt.
- Lower the seat so that their feet can comfortably touch the ground if they need to reassure and steady themselves without the training wheels. It helps them feel safer and more confident and they can often prevent a fall this way too.
- Practice braking first with the training wheels still on initially. Do drills like, “Ride up and stop just before that line.”
- If they express fear that they might fall, tell them that they might fall and that it is okay, they might fall a few times, so “let’s practice falling first, then we will practice riding”. You can hold their bike steady as they climb on and began to pedal, then say “I am going to let go now, and you might have a little fall, but you will be okay.” If they do fall and hit the grass, you might see them smile and they will probably say “That wasn’t scary! Let’s go again!” If they do get upset, be very casual but don’t gush over them, just quickly, casually and warmly check they are okay then say, “Good on you, now we have practised falling a little, now let’s practice riding.” Practice again, and again and then with the fear of falling no longer occupying them, their confidence will grow with each lap around the oval.
- Don’t hold on to their bike, it actually hinders their natural ability to balance. I held my son’s bike steady as he climbed on once as he began to pedal, then gave him a gentle push forward and let go at one point, but I noticed that he wobbled more initially when I did that than when he took off on his own. When they can balance this process themselves they are far more steady than when the bike is being propelled in a way that they are not in control of.
- On the oval that we went to there was a cricket pitch in the middle which was made of firm, flat concrete, after he was confident on the grass, I encouraged him to ride back and forth over the flat cricket pitch and the walkway. That little bit of concrete showed him that concrete was nothing to be afraid of, and eventually, he felt brave enough to try riding in a large concreted area.
- Stay Calm…..as much as humanly possible, show them how confident you are that they can do it.. It is not easy teaching children new skills, especially when they are fearful, complaining, crying or being difficult. It is easy to want to give in and give up, but by encouraging your child and telling them that you believe in them and use a voice that demonstrates that you have complete confidence in their abilities, it will help to steady their nerves and may even help to steady your own! If your child is just completely terrified, I wouldn’t encourage you forcing it though, if they are really panicked, just keep trying regularly and eventually their confidence will build up and they will do it when they are ready, but don’t give up all together!
Good luck and I hope that some of these tips help!!