Teaching Kids To Ride A Bike: Push, Pull, or Pull Your Hair Out?

taking off the training wheels and learning to ride
Back when I was a kid, swimming lessons consisted of your dad throwing you in the pool, and you quickly figuring out how not to drown. And, when you got too big for training wheels, off they came, and you were pushed down a hill, skinned-knees be damned. Hopefully pedaling your heart out.

These days, my husband I often struggle with the question of when to push our kids to learn new things, and when to just chill and let them be pulled by peers and other outside forces. The experts say push vs. pull parenting depends on the child. Some kids love a challenge. Others face them kicking and screaming.

Which is exactly how we ended up with an 8-year-old who couldn't ride a bike. After many fruitless attempts at pushing, met with the Duke's superhuman reluctance and resistance, it was either pull, or pull out our hair.

Then, one day, the kids were off school and my friend Adrianna had the brilliant idea of spending a beautiful fall day exploring Sandy Hook. And then she dropped the hammer: “The boys and I are bringing our bikes!”

Her sons were 10 and 6, and had been biking on two wheels with no trainers for years. My boy/girl twins, blessed with my oldest son as their role model, hadn’t made biking a priority either. Currently, Roo's bike had a flat tire for god-knows-how long and Bean, my challenge lover, did have her training wheels off, but after two skinned knees, was still gun shy. So we decided Roo would ride a scooter and Bean would rollerblade.

But what would we do about the Duke?

When I explained the plan, he was in tears. He loves Adrianna’s boys, and more than that, he love love loves Sandy Hook. The thought of biking with his buds down that scenic trail towards Fort Hancock, past missiles and cannons, with a sprawling view of the bay, was exactly the kind of pull he needed to get up and biking.

Would he man up, rise to the challenge, and make it happen?

The morning of our excursion, he made my husband put his training wheels back on his bike so he wouldn’t miss out on the fun. This was going to be innnnteresting.

We pulled up next to our friends in the parking lot across from Horseshoe Cove and began to unload our various types of wheels. Adrianna's 6-year-old, a free-spirited redhead with Dennis the Menace type wit, looked over at the Duke's bike and scoffed, “Who still has TRAINING WHEELS??!!”

Forget peer pressure. This was peer shame and ridicule. Perfect.

But my firstborn got on that “baby bike” and rode like the Dickens. If he felt embarrassed, he didn’t let it show, and to my surprise, he was almost able to keep up with his freewheeling friends.

As Adrianna and I lagged behind with the wondertwins on scooter and skates, she offered up her generous take on the situation. “These days, kids don’t roam the neighborhoods freely like they used to. Parents are always driving them to activities and playdates, so kids don’t need bikes like we did to get around.”

Hmmm….Perhaps my eldest's biking deficit was just a sign of our times, and not a result of my wishy-washy parenting? And while we’re at it, we might as well blame his difficulty tying his own shoes on the excess of available Velcro and slip-on footwear. Don’t even ask about cutting his own meat.

In case you’re wondering, the boys DOES know how to swim, but was only willing to try after seeing his three-year old sister jump off the diving board. Instead of waiting for his younger brother to be pulled too, we opted for the above mentioned push method of tossing him in the pool. Both techniques worked. It all depends how much time you have.

Sandy Hook was a blast. Its seven-mile paved trail winds through woods and along the coastline, making for a fun fall day escape. When the kids’ little legs could ride no more, we stormed the beach at Horseshoe Cove for some digging and building.

Until that day, the Duke had shown no real interest in biking. Now we talk about going back with my husband, and even, one day, riding the whole length of the Henry Hudson Trail. He knows none of that is happening until the training wheels stay off for good.

Fingers crossed, this will transpire one weekend soon. And when it does, I know his younger siblings will be pulled along quick.

I’m not buying a bike rack for the car just yet, but definitely before they’re in college.

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  1. The non-profit West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance has taught about 75 kids to ride bikes without training wheels this year with a simple method taught to us by Bike New York. Take off the training wheels AND the pedals, lower the seat so the kid can sit on the bike with both feet on the ground. Then walk the bike while seated, lift up feet for 1, 2, 3 seconds ... Keep going. Once the child understands balance, put the pedals back on, raise the seat a bit, make sure he/she understands how to stop and start ... Won't be long til you child is riding! See wwbpa.org for more.


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