Let’s talk about one of parenting’s greatest challenges: raising a mini-me. I absolutely love that my kid is straight up ballin’ when it comes to her reading skills. Yay! Not so yay? Her fear of failure, her fear of physically risky things like taking off the training wheels from her bike, and her avoidance of things that might actually challenge her. Basically, I know exactly what she’s thinking and feeling at all times because she’s more or less a mini-me. I wanted to teach a child to ride a bike, and that should be fairly simple! But it wasn’t – I couldn’t stop pushing her, at the exact wrong moments.
Mini-me is coming up on six years old, and yesterday, her daddy removed the training wheels, took her to the Baptist church parking lot down the street, gave her a gentle shove, and sent her coasting on her bike. She came back home confident, beaming ear to ear, and completely in love with both herself and her daddy. So naturally, I had to push her beyond her comfort zone and risk a complete backslide.
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If you want to teach a child to ride a bike, address the falling before you begin.
We live in west Texas, and it’s hotter than Satan’s house cat in the summer. So we try and burn a bunch of energy in the morning. I teach, so I have summers “off.” LOL, that’s hilarious. Teaching other people’s 9 year olds is way easier than raising these rag-knots. Anyway, since yesterday had gone so swimmingly for Mini-Me and her daddy, I figured it was time to level up and try actually riding the bike around the neighborhood. She’d be required to turn corners, cross streets, and go up and downhill. That’s quite a bit more challenging that getting a push-off from a parent in a parking lot.
Turkey Burger (the Mini- Me), having been a bit boastful the day before, was suddenly more reserved and warning me that this was going to be much more challenging. In a moment of parenting beauty, I got down on her level, and told her that three different things were about to happen: 1) She would absolutely fall today, and probably more than once, 2) This ride is going to be scary sometimes, and 3) She was gonna put on her big girl panties and get back on the bike every ding-dang time.
This might sound a bit dramatic, but like I said, she’s my mini-me, and I already knew about her little internal dialogue and the fear that was creeping in. I decided it would be best to hit it head on.
By the way, speaking of internal dialogue, here are my printable (ready for a box of crayons) positive affirmations for kids.
Avoid breaking your child’s trust when learning to ride a bike.
So let’s just picture this mess. I’m pushing Chicken Nugget in the stroller. Chicken Patty has decided to go rogue, get off the stroller and “walk,” which is really just ambling at his own 2 year old pace. I’m laser-focused on Mini-Me to see how she handles the next part. She had previously asked me to give her a push-off, but I told her that she was big enough to get going on her own. All she needed to do was walk her bike forward a bit, gain just a tiny morsel of speed, and then courageously lift both feet off the ground and onto the pedals. After a couple of false starts, I showed her that slowing down during the transition from feet down to feet up would cause her bike to wobble.
So as I’m monitoring her from a distance, I notice that she’s basically treating this big-girl bike like the balance bike. The little chicken (God love her) was waddling along with her feet on the concrete and not lifting her feet to the pedals. By the way, I do think the balance bike helped her get over the first big confidence bump, and we love the one we got!
I can’t just let that $@#% go and let her work up the courage at her own pace, of course. Because that would probably be the logical thing to do. Instead, in a moment of complete frustration, I run up behind her, give the bike a good shove and say, “GOOOOOOO Turkey Burger!” After coming to a screetching halt, she whipped around, with all the sass in the world in her voice, and said, “I’m NOT READY, MAMA!” Let the stand-off ensue.
If you want to teach a child to ride a bike, plan to take breaks!
Next, I did possibly the first smart thing of the day, and muttered, “Okay, Turkey. You can just do it your way.” And I let her waddle off on her bike. I tried not to pay attention, knowing that I wouldn’t have the patience to stay quiet. But of course, I was watching. Etched into her little face was frustration with herself. It bothered her that she hadn’t worked up the nerve to push off on her own. She didn’t need any further pestering from Mama. Life was hard enough this morning in the Texas heat without getting the oldest child micromanagement treatment from her mama. As I watched from a distance, I made a plan to reunite with her, determined to say the right thing next time.
Expose your child to other kids and families riding bikes to inspire them.
By some small miracle, I got lucky and a group of bikers rode by. I noted that they were all older, ranging from young teenagers to adults, but you know…all confidently pedaling along. I decided to let the teaching moment pass by in silence. But Turkey Burger was watching and apparently, her determination grew. When we reached the next corner and all agreed to a water break, she turned around and asked, “Mama, I never feel ready to lift up my feet. It feels like I’m going to fall. Will you push me from behind?”
Pro tip: if your child is not doing playdates with bicycles involved, plan one!
When your child is receptive and trying their best, give ONE piece of advice only.
I tossed up my prayer that I utter when time is of the essence and I don’t have time for a bonafide conversation with God: “Jesus, help me.” He knows. He knows these little moments really do matter, and He knows I can mess it up in a flash.
So I said, “Turkey, I’m not going to push you, because I’m 100% sure you can do this, if you’ll let me give you one little tip. And then I promise I won’t say another word.”
I said, “I’ve noticed that when you get up to speed with your walking, you just lift ONE foot off the ground to the pedal, and then you start wobbling. I know it’s scary, but the only way this is going to work is by picking up BOTH feet, quickly putting them on the pedals, and then pedaling as fast as you can to increase your speed. If you don’t do it that way, you’ll be moving too slow and your bike will wobble. You might fall when you do that, but since you’re not going very fast at the beginning, it won’t hurt too badly. I think you should try it.”
I promised myself I wouldn’t say another word.
If you’re going to teach a child to ride a bike, say as little as possible. Be comfortable with silence.
Turkey Burger cautiously waddled ahead, slowly gaining momentum on her tippy toes. I resisted the urge to bark, “FEET UP!” Instead, I remained quiet. She lifted only one foot up, wobbled, and replanted her feet. She turned around and said, “I messed up. I’m gonna try again, Mama.”
I nodded and smiled, determined not to speak.
And y’all, SHE DID IT. This time, when she got up to a bit of a speed, she picked up both feet from the ground and took off pedaling as fast as her scrawny legs would allow.
Later, she sure did fall. But she confidently stood back up, muttered, “That wasn’t so bad,” and tried again. I congratulated her on the graceful fall and toughness. One block later, she rounded a corner seamlessly without dropping her feet. When it came time to cross the road, we paused, and I pointed out a couple of driveway ramps to allow her to ride without stopping back to the van.
Lessons Learned while Parenting a Mini-Me
Today, I learned a valuable lesson with my mini-me. We want so badly for our kids to escape the things within us that drive us both crazy. I can’t make my child not be wired for nervousness, fear of failure, and caution. I’d love it if I could take it all away. But it’s in her DNA. She got stuck with my genes and her firstborn mindset.
Nevertheless, we succeeded together today. I shut my mouth, tamed the angry beast, and after equipping her with just one piece of advice, vowed to remain silent and supportive. She was able to concentrate without the endless chatter and encouragement coming from my lips. Sometimes, the most supportive thing we moms can do is give them space to think and experience the world around them. The neverending stream of encouragement gives us a sense of control but robs them of the solitude needed to find their will. Sometimes, even praise feels like pressure.