The road from nervous to confident
Most people can recall their first tentative bike ride for years. Once you could successfully balance your nerves and body on those two wheels and pedal off into the sunset, all that earlier worry, fear and self-doubt probably fell away instantaneously. And you probably never looked back! After all, it’s as easy as learning to ride a bike… isn’t it? 😉
Sprint forward a decade or two, and you might find yourself handing this skill to your offspring or maybe your offspring’s offspring. You might imagine the experience as an immediately joyous event where the little one jumps on their new bike, full of courage and confidence, and… well, job done! That might happen. But it might not (sorry!). So, here’s the advice you’ll need to help manage everyone’s feelings about it, including your own.
Through learning to ride a bike, your child will discover their own emotional and physical capacity to confront worries, achieve mastery and reign victorious over a challenge that felt way too difficult at first. We repeat this cycle throughout our lives, and your mini-me has already done this multiple times from birth with various obstacles, such as learning to roll over, crawl, stand, walk, use cutlery and so much more. You’ll need this gem of information at a few of the crunch points ahead, as you’ll see.
Straight A's ahead!
Being familiar with and using the straight A's method will help you make sure the brakes won’t stay on for too long:
Your child WILL be nervous about getting on that bike. That’s very normal. It doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong or that your child won’t love cycling when they’re competent at it. It’s important to ACCEPT this fact, and to let them know you accept this fact. Keep the stakes low and stay playful – don’t promise a lifetime of bliss/screen time/theme parks if they can get this right, right now. It’s not ‘now or never’, right? Let them know even you can’t overcome everything the first time.
Try saying: ‘I know this is going to feel a bit scary, but let’s see what happens – I’ve got you.’
Any new challenge brings inevitable worries: Will I fall? Will I hurt myself? Will I look silly? What if I can’t do it? Will they be cross with me? Fear of failure and not meeting expectations are powerful prohibitors. ACKNOWLEDGE that what’s about to happen is a physical and emotional challenge but it’s one you think they can handle. Make failure a potential option but be positive and explain why you think they can manage it. This is the time to remind them of those times when they were a tiny baby and they learnt to push themselves to do scary things like standing up and walking.
Try saying: ‘I can see this is hard for you and I’m right here to help you give it your best shot.’
Tune your child into their reasons for wanting to learn to ride their bike. Tell them to imagine riding like someone who’s been riding for years. Get them to ARTICULATE the benefits they’ll get from being a confident bike-rider. Have them think about how, once they’ve got it sorted, life will be more fun, convenient or exciting. And about who will be cheering them on, whatever happens.
Try saying: ‘Why do you want to learn to ride your bike? What will be better? Who will be pleased for you? Who will be the first person you tell?’
Remind them that you’re in charge and will be making sure everything is ok. ASSURE them that you’ve checked it out, you’ve read a great blog post all about this, thought about everything and you’ve realised they have the necessary ability to try this now. Remind them you got them safely through all that scary baby stuff, even when they fell over, so there’s good evidence you’re a pretty safe and trustworthy co-pilot.
Try saying: ‘I’m good at keeping you safe and helping you to test your limits. You can trust me.’
Check with them what is worrying them and do your best to give honest answers to their questions. ASK them what they do and don’t want you to do. Make it your mission to help them feel as safe as possible and be playful and positive.
Try saying: ‘What might stop you from wanting to try this out? What can I do to help you find your courage?’
You’re so close now! AGREE together what the plan is and encourage them to be curious about how it might go. Sum up what you’ve decided and then go for it!
Try saying: ‘Are you ready to give this a first go? Let’s do it!’
And that’s it!
Overcoming the obstacles and nailing that first wobbly ride will build their resilience. With sensitive encouragement and support from you, it could be an excellent foundation for thinking about what they want to accomplish next. Although, obviously, nothing will ever quite beat the thrill of cycling!
For the best chance to make sure there’s no unexpected spanner in the spokes, it goes without saying you’ll need to make sure your child has the appropriate safety gear. Preparation is key. Now, you’re all set! Let us know how it goes.
Dr Sharie Coombes is a mental health author and child, adolescent & family psychotherapist who loves to use neuroscience to help people understand themselves and the world around them. She has worked extensively over four decades with young people and families in schools and in the NHS.
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