The reluctant learner

What do you do when your child doesn’t want to learn how to ride a two wheeled bike?  It is not unusual for some kids to be quite resistant to learning, and they may not willingly engage with the idea until they are older.  This can be frustrating for parents and siblings who want to ride together as a family.  It’s baffling for parents when they know of other kids the same age who are already happily and independently riding their own two wheeler.  If they’ve successfully taught their older kid(s) to ride, they might be especially perplexed:  what is it with this kid?

So in the brilliant words of Stephen Covey, let’s seek first to understand: what’s going on?  A kid who doesn’t want to learn might have a clear idea in their head as to why, and they may be able to articulate it, or they might just clam up, hunker down and refuse to engage.  Either way it will help to spend some time trying to guess where they are at.   (Parenting guess-ology).  Perhaps they resemble one of these:


Although they may not be able to name it as fear,this can be the real reason why they don’t want to ride a two wheeler unsupported.  Especially older kids who have more experience with falling and getting hurt.  Evolution necessitates that we avoid activities that might cause us pain and injury: our bodies are wired to run and/or hide and avoid sabre tooth tigers.  For your child, riding a two wheeler unsupported may be their ‘sable tooth tiger’.  Just mention it and their body goes on high alert and tells them “don’t do it, it’s dangerous, best avoid this one…..”  Although they probably voice it with a pout and “no, I just don’t want to”.  You can poke and prod and ask them why, and you’ll get the same answer, possibly with more emphasis.  That is because our sabre-tooth-tiger-avoiding is hard wired in our brain, and not a conscious or rational thought process that they can easily explain.

Ideas for Making it less scary: make it feel safer.

  • Soften the landing: e.g. grassy playing fields.
  • Make it flat
  • Create privacy for kids who may feel self conscious or inadequate
  • Provide support (physically and emotionally), e.g. training wheels, running behind holding on, etc.


Kids can worry about all sorts of things.  Some kids worry about disappointing you, about getting it wrong, about not being good at things, about not meeting their own expectations of themselves or their ideas of what others expect from them.  Sometimes this is called perfectionism, but for now let’s call it worrying.

How can you help the worried child?

  • Tune in to where they are coming from.  Listen with empathy and being open to the possibility that they might have a wee world of worry going on in their head.
  • Make it okay for them to try and fail by reminding them that they’ve overcome challenges before.  After all they learned to walk!  Tell them funny stories about learning to walk, how they tried and fell, but kept trying and got there eventually.
  • Make sure they know you are proud of their efforts as much as their outputs, and that you don’t expect them to be an expert at the outset.

Getting help

You might not feel physically up to the task of running behind your kid whilst they develop confidence and balance.  Or the battle of wills, or their fear of disappointing you, might be getting in the way of moving forward.  Either way, you can ask for help.  Most parents have been there and done that.  It was a friend of my Mum’s who taught me how to ride, and I am so grateful to her!

Small Rebellions – The three D’s


It takes all kinds to make the world and some kids are way more interested in other things and don’t want to invest their precious free time, commitment and energy into mastering a skill that holds little appeal to them.

Defiant / Strong-willed

Some kids need to assert themselves more than others.  Oh the joy of parenting!  Sooner or later kids decide they don’t want to be told what to do anymore, and they will pick an issue to take a stand on.  This happens in small doses at age three and huge ‘OMG what has happened to my child’ doses at age 13.  At various points in the middle, kids may choose one or a number of issues to take a stand on.  Cycling might be theirs, and you’ll be left wondering why they couldn’t have chosen brussel sprouts like any ‘normal child’.  (Quick note: as you’ve probably already realised, the ‘normal child’ doesn’t actually exist, so let yourself off the hook there… phew….)


Humans are funny creatures.  Often we are herd like animals, seeking to follow norms and be part of the bunch.  Other times we like to carve out our own place in the world and assert our own personality, tastes and opinions.  In families kids have different ways of differentiating themselves: sport, academia, vegetarianism, compliant vs defiant, passions, dress, etc.  They find it helpful to have their own niche where they can be the best (or worst), the expert, the one.  I imagine you don’t get this with only children.  So perhaps your kid has chosen to be the non-cycling member of the family, or perhaps more broadly to be disinterested in anything vaguely sporting, active or outdoors.

But what do I DO?

You might be thinking “Yes well!  It is all well and good to get in your kids head and try and understand what is going on.  Those educated guesses and time spent contemplating the world from their point of view are all well and good, but how can I get my kid riding their bike with the rest of us?“.  Ah, where is that magic wand when you need it?  Unfortunately, I can’t give you ten easy steps to get your kid on their bike.  But based on the experiences of those parents who’ve dealt with this, you may find these suggestions helpful.

  1. Empathy.  Focus on understanding where they are coming from.  Given time, space, and a lot of tongue-biting on your part they may start to work out for themselves how they are feeling about this and talk about it.  For some kids, once they’ve been able to sort through their feelings and feel heard and understood they will be ready to move on.  It can help get them un-stuck.  My favourite parenting website ‘Aha! Parenting‘ has some great advice on empathy.  (And some audio for those who find listening easier).
  2. Patience.  Sometimes you just have to wait them out.  Take a leap of faith and tell yourself they will do this when they are ready.  If they are defiant or differentiating, then patience may well be the key to success.  If you are patiently, supportively and quietly waiting them out, then they have nothing to rally against.  Once they stop seeing it as a battle to be fought they might move on to considering giving it a go.  All in their own time.   Does this work?  Yes, for families I know backing off and being patient got them there in the end.
  3. Life goes on.  So they don’t want to ride: Okay, no problem.  Without being punitive about it, show them life goes on.  The rest of you want to ride and you will.  What will they do? Go to Nana’s, read a book, watch, scooter instead?  Get them to come up with options that work for the whole family.  It isn’t about punishing them, but it is  important that they learn that life goes on and the rest of you don’t want to miss out because of their choices.
  4. Problem solving.  Sit down and brainstorm the issue with them.  Be creative, silly, patient and empathic.  Get them to come up with some potential solutions or alternatives.  There are some traps to avoid when problem solving with you child, so have a quick read of this great guide to problem solving with your child from NZ’s own Parenting Place.

One last thing  to help you tough it out

I’m a huge admirer of Celia Lashlie, author of “He’ll be OK”.  She talks a lot about creating strong foundations with your kids when they are younger so as to ease the journey through adolencence. She advocates kids learning about consequences, risk taking and decision making: so that they will be better at it when they are 17 and behind the wheel of a car.  Learning to ride a two wheeler is a major milestone in a child’s journey toward independence. It requires their self belief, an element of risk taking and sometimes, huge amounts of emotional (and sometimes physical) support from you.

Don’t underestimate the long lasting value of the support, encouragement, patience and attitude you bring to this. When your kids face the challenges of adolescence you want them to know that you’re there for them, that you can ‘get them’ and accept the parts of them that are different from you.  That’s huge…… so maybe this is about MORE than just getting that kid on that darn bike!  (Like a lot of parenting really!)  Good luck to you!

Do you have experience of a reluctant learner?  How’s it working out for you?


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