10 Things Cycling Teaches Kids

Do you remember learning to ride a bike? Chances are you do: it was scary, exciting and a big deal.  Mastering your first two-wheeler is a big milestone.  Teaching your kid to ride a bike is a huge gift that lasts a lifetime.  When you ride with them, you get to teach them so much more than the technical skill and physical coordination needed to avoid falling off…. in fact without even realising it you are teaching them some great life skills.

1. Resilience

Put simply, our resilience is our ability to bounce back and persist even when things go wrong.  It is the ability to get back on and keep riding, even in you fall off.

2. Overcoming Fears

When you’ve had the security of a trike or training wheels, it can be a scary experience to try and balance on two wheels.  Other challenges along the way might be a bigger bike, a particular trail or hill, or learning to ride on the road.  Providing the challenges are age appropriate and the child is ready for them, they can be a positive experience of overcoming fears, and enjoying the satisfaction of ‘feeling the fear and doing it anyway’.

3.  Sharing

Whether it is passing a too-small bike onto a younger child, or sharing a path or trail with other users, using a bike is all about sharing.  Especially about sharing space safely.  That means learning about other peoples different needs and about respect.  Wouldn’t our communities be even better places if we all learned these lessons well when we were young.

4.  Adaptability

Going on a bike ride, whether it is around the block or bigger adventure, will toss up some surprises along the way.  We can’t control the weather, the roadworks, or the odd tumble.  Chances to practice adapting to life’s curve-balls helps adults stay mentally flexible.  For kids, it gives them a chance to see that even when things don’t go as expected, we can modify our plans and approach to make the most of the situation.

5. Persistance

Falling off and getting back on; again and again.  That’s how we learn to ride a bike right?   And unless you’ve got an e-bike, you can’t get to the top of a hill without a fair does of persistence too.

6.  Independence

As kids our parents do so much for us.  Being able to safely and confidently ride a bike opens up a world of independent mobility for a child.  If you can also teach them basic repairs and maintenance then they are literally ‘set for life’: a lifetime of active transport, adventure and fun.  And you won’t be playing ‘taxi’ to your teens for years.  Increasingly, young adults are turning their backs on car ownership, and fewer are gaining their drivers licenses.  They’ll love being able to ‘cycle instead’.

7.  Road Sense

Even as bike passengers, kids are exposed to the world of roads and traffic.  They learn by observation.  As you add in age appropriate instruction, their knowledge of road safety, etiquette and ability to keep themselves safe around traffic will continue to grow.  It is no coincidence that a survey of Auckland driving instructors found that kids who cycle regularly make better drivers.

8.  Self Confidence

When I wanted to know more about how kids feel about riding a bike, I asked teachers at my kids school if the students could do some writing on the topic.  The results were awesome, and one of the repeating themes was the sense of mastery and accomplishment they felt when they pushed their limits, such as tackling a tough hill or track, or just keeping up with Dad.  Biking is an activity where kids can participate on a fairly equal footing with Mum and Dad, especially as they get older.  And because you can tailor it to their age and abilities, they can enjoy the thrill of achievement and the resulting boost to their self confidence.

9. Self care

Using bikes for everyday trips help develop healthy habits of regular physical activity.  Longer rides emphasise the importance of good food and adequate sleep.  And on all rides, taking proactive personal responsibility for staying safe is a skill we want our kids to have.

10.  Risk Taking / Consequences

More and more we are realising that we don’t do our kids any favours by ‘wrapping them in cotton wool’.  Put it this way, would you rather a seven year old experience the consequences of riding at speed and losing control; or a seventeen year old experience it behind the wheel of a car?  So much of learning is experiential, and as parents we have the balancing act of keeping our kids safe whilst teaching them how to keep themselves safe (so they can do the job when we aren’t around).  I’m not talking about putting your 7 year old on the main road to learn to ride; but am suggesting that blatting around the local school bike track at break-neck speed will soon teach them a thing or two about the laws of physics and the consequences.

What would you add to the list?

 

 

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Spring into spring

Despite the cold blast of recent days, there are plenty of signs that Spring is here. The days are getting longer, the weather is warming up, buds are on the trees and the blue sky beacons me to head outside. 

Has winter had you off your bike, enjoying some hibernation? If so your bike (and you?) might need a wee bit of attention. So use the arrival of spring as your inspiration to dust off your bike, give it a bit of TLC and head out to enjoy the splendor of Spring. 

Spring-tune your bike 

  1. Dust it off. Check the frame for any signs of damage or rust. 
  2. Pump it up. Check your tyres and pump them to the recommended pressure. A floor pump is a good investment for a biking family
  3. Chain reaction. Check your bikes chain and gears. Clean off any dust, grime or rust. Lube the chain (it should look silky)
  4. Accesorise. Make sure your helmet is fitting well and undamaged. Check your pump, spare tube, bike lights and other minimum equipment (see what’s in the bag) are all present and correct. 
  5. Check your brakes. Always do this before a ride (and after fixing a puncture). Make sure they engage well and don’t feel spongy. 

For more safety check tips check out this booklet from the NZTA. 

If you spot problems or are concerned about the state of your bike, pop into your local bike shop and talk about a safety check or service. 

Helping your kids perform these steps is a great way to teach them how to look after their bike. Now you are ready! Where will you go?

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:

Scared

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.

Worried

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

Disinterested

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….)

Differentiating

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?

 

Riding on the road

The best way to teach children cycling skills is to ride with them.  Awareness, caution, predictability and visibility skills are grown layer upon layer with lots of practice, guidance and positive reinforcement.  When you introduce them to road riding, your position relative to them should enable you to be constantly observing and coaching.  And remember, a great coach tells us what we are doing right as well as where and how we need to improve. Continue reading “Riding on the road”

Share with Care

Mind your manners!

At some point you’ll be riding with walkers, dogs and other cyclists, and possibly farmers and livestock.  Use it as an opportunity to show your kids the life skills of manners, courtesy, and sharing. Continue reading “Share with Care”

Pregnant Cycling

Mindful of the benefits of being fit and active whilst pregnant, I wanted to keep cycling.  I had my concerns, so I read up on the topic and consulted my doctor.  Here is what I learnt about each concern:

Injury Risk.   Collisions and falls present risk of injury to you and your baby.  This applies both on and off the bike, especially as your belly grows and you can’t see the kerb or other things which can be tripped over.  Walking,  being with kids and motor vehicle accidents all pose injury risk.  Overall the baby is well protected by amniotic fluid.  As an experienced rider with a good safety record I chose to trust in this.  I minimised risk by choosing where and when to ride, e.g. no mountain biking for me.

Heath Risk.  Sitting on the sofa eating chocolate biscuits posed more of a health risk for me than cycling did.  As with any exercise during pregnancy, it is key to avoid over-heating.  Pregnancy raises your core body temperature and raising it further can be bad for baby.  Because you heat-up from the inside out, you can’t just ask ‘do I feel hot’, as baby will be feeling hotter than you.  Because of this, experts usually advise monitoring your heart rate or perceived rate of exertion (PRE) whilst exercising, (your level of exertion will determine your core temperature).  They used to give a maximum of 140 BPM but this of course depended on how fit you were to start.  Cycling gently around town with the occasional small hill should be fine providing you don’t over do it.  Manage your core temperature with appropriate clothing, plenty of water and cool-down rests as needed.  Monitor your exertion in a way that works for you.  Follow general guidelines for exercising whilst pregnant.

Fatigue.  Growing a baby is hard work and it is important not to over do it in other areas of your life.  Listen to your body, when you are tired rest.  At the same time keep in mind that staying fit and active will make life much easier during delivery and beyond.  It is also great for your mental health, especially when cycling is something you enjoy.

The best advice I read was this:

“when your baby bump starts touching on the top bar of your bike it is time to stop”.

I happily cycled through both pregnancies.  With our first we turned up to our childbirth classes by bike.  With my second I towed our first child to daycare in our chariot cycle trailer, stopping at eight months when the baby bump got in the way.  Both times we had a couples weekend away, hiring a tandem and exploring bike paths in San Francisco and Napier.

For me, cycling when pregnant is a case of:

“if it feels good, do it”    ……..with a good dose of responsibility and sensible caution.

Did you cycle whilst pregnant? How was it for you?