Mistakes Parents Make Teaching Their Kids to Ride a Bike

Karl von Drais, who invented the two-wheeled bicycle in 1817, didn’t even think how much his invention would mean to the world in the future. At the time, he wanted to create alternative means of transportation since lots of animals, including horses, died from starvation when Mount Tambora erupted. These hobby horses, as Von Drais named them, didn’t have pedals or gears, so a person had to use their feet and push them to move forward.

This was a far cry from the bicycles we have today and it would take a while from 1817 to the 1860s for ones with pedals and gear systems to show up. In 1866, Pierre Lallement, a carriage maker from France, obtained the first patent for such a vehicle in the USA, although several others claimed to have originally attached pedals and gears before him. Bicycle design has gone through different stages since then — the one with a high and larger front wheel known as the penny-farthing being one of them.

The real cycling revolution came when British inventor John Kemp Starley introduced the “Rover,” a vehicle that resembles today’s bikes. In ten years, the number of bike users soared from 200,000 to a million turning the bicycle into a favorite means of transportation for the working man. Nowadays, bikes have from one to 33 gears, different sizes, adjusted heights, and cushioned seats. People don’t use them only to travel, but also for sports, recreation, and entertainment.

Learning how to ride a bike is one of the favorite childhood memories kids have of their parents, representing an important milestone in growing up. However, sometimes with all good intentions, parents can make mistakes when teaching kids how to ride a bike. So, let’s discuss rights and wrongs, as well as why bicycles have such a huge simultaneous impact on human quality of life and the environment.

1.    Neglecting your influence on the education system

Parents can make a lot of changes in the education system and improve the way bikes are presented. Many countries, like the Netherlands, consider bicycles as a means of transportation and their kids learn to ride from an early age. Riding a bike is not only about getting from A to B, but it can have a significant influence on a child’s self-esteem, motor skills, deduction, and attention, to name a few.

You can suggest a school install bike racks and make a deal with vendors for discounts for parts and maintenance. If it’s too complicated to organize a bike-riding program, then doing something as small as creating space for kids to park their bicycles can be supportive.

2.    Using the training wheels

Training wheels used to be an integral part of teaching kids to ride a bike, but now they are considered old-school. Today, the best approach is gliding — removing pedals from the bikes, lowering the seat so both feet touch the ground fully, and telling them to push forward. This will make the bike glide for a short distance, which is enough for them to try to regain balance and control. When they have mastered gliding, you can return the pedals and raise the seat back, and have them try riding normally.

3.    Teaching kids only to ride in controlled environments

The parents usually start riding lessons in places that they believe to be safe, like the sidewalk or backyard. Some parents even let the kids ride inside the homes if that’s going to make them feel calmer about possible dangers. Though understandable, this may not be as safe as you believe.

Kids need to know that they are not the only ones using the space to ride a bike. Pedestrians, skaters, mothers with strollers, and pets are some of the obstacles they may encounter when riding on sidewalks. So, you are not protecting them at all, but rather creating conditions that are quite different from those they will encounter when riding alone.

4.    Not including proper signaling in their teaching

We already talked about where you should take your kids to learn to ride a bike, but another important part of that is teaching them signaling. This will help them when sharing the road with other riders, cars, and pedestrians. For example, the hand needs to clearly show a stop signal with the palm pointed firmly at the other person, instead of hanging limply at the side of the kid’s body. Also, make sure to teach them to look over their shoulder before signaling, as well as change their place in the road depending on the traffic.

5.    Unfamiliarity with the health benefits of cycling

Whether your child plans to ride a mountain bike or use a bicycle to go to school, it will always come with health benefits. Considering that kids spend lots of time in classrooms and are glued to their electronic devices, cycling may be a welcoming change for the better. Riding a bike can increase muscle strength and reduce body fat, helping with weight loss and boosting mobility.

It can improve posture, strengthen bones, and bring a slew of cardiovascular and lung benefits, like more oxygen to the brain. Besides physical advantages, cycling can enhance your child’s mental health, contributing to their self-awareness, confidence, and stress management. Taking a more scenic route to their destination can help with brainstorming, creative thinking, and problem-solving, decreasing anxiety and uneasiness.  

6.    Not insisting on safety gear

Safety gear should always be on your child, even when riding for a short distance. This includes a helmet, knee and elbow protectors, and equipment that will make them visible, like bells and reflectors. Front and back lights should always be on from the moment it starts getting dark, while they can also wear a reflective vest or jacket. The helmet alone can protect them from serious head injuries, so it needs to fit perfectly and tightly.

7.    Buying inappropriate bikes for your kids

Shopping for kids bikes is one of the crucial points of teaching them to ride. Too big or too small bicycles can cause falls, loss of control, and inability to maneuver. Keep in mind that not all children are the same, meaning that the bike size intended for 10 year old may not fit all children of that age.

The best approach is to go to the shop and have them try out different models until you find the one that fits. The right bike should have 1–2 inches or 3–5 centimeters between the child’s body and the highest point on the top tube. If you are buying a bike online, consult with customer service for advice and learn more about their return policy.

8.    Forgetting the environmental impact

Kids of today are more aware of the burning issues in the world. One of them is the environmental decline and global warming, caused by cars, industry, and human behavior. Riding a bike is the same as walking — it’s environmentally friendly and can decrease the levels of pollution. This can be a motivator for your kid to learn how to ride a bike and start using it to go to school, even encouraging others to do the same. Telling them about the current state of the environment may inspire them to change more than their commuting habits like recycling.

9.    Stopping the lessons when kids gain balance

When you see your kids staying on the bike and not falling, you may believe that your job is done. However, gaining balance is only a good start to teaching them other vital things already mentioned here, like signaling. Other skills they need to learn are how to stop a bike using coaster or squeeze breakers, as well as changing gears. Line riding is another useful skill that will help them keep in the same direction while pointing with their hands or carrying a heavy backpack.    

10. Disregarding the importance of bike maintenance

A bicycle needs to be safe to ride, meaning that it has to be maintained regularly and fixed immediately when a problem shows up. Your child should learn the basic maintenance, in the beginning, consisting of checking the tire pressure breaks, and bolts. Everything needs to be tightly secured and not fall off when you raise and drop the bike on the ground. If the bike is old or used a lot, take it to professionals to fix any potential issues before they cause trouble and injury.

11. Ignoring how the kids feel about riding a bike

Once your kid learned how to ride, you may be tempted to take them on a family cycling trip or pedaling around the neighborhood. But this may be taking back all your efforts to teach them to ride a bike in the first place. Instead of pressuring them to ride, pay attention to their views and feelings about cycling.

They may need to take a break from riding and do something else, or they may want to practice some more before going on the real ride. Whatever it may be, give them a chance to find their pacing and feel secure about their new-gained skill, before you invite them to join you on the road.

12. Leaving out the fun

Riding a bike should be fun! Don’t turn it into a boot camp and make it interesting so that your kid will want to come back to it again and again. Patience is the key here, but also don’t forget to crack a joke and be in a positive mood. Being a more upbeat instructor will allow the beginner rider to relax and believe in the learning process, instead of fearing or despising it.

13. Not packing a first aid kit

In the beginning, the first aid kit may not be something you will have to think about. As your child’s riding skill progresses, however, you will have to prepare some basic things to treat strains, cuts, and scratches. Here is what your kid’s first aid kit should include:

·         Antiseptic wipes

·         Elastic bandage

·         Tape roll

·         Wound dressing

·         Pressure bandage

·         Butterfly wound closures

·         Adhesive bandage

·         Sterile pads

·         Scissors

·         Hand sanitizer

Moreover, make sure to teach them some basic first aid skills, like CPR and immobilizing strains and broken bones. After all, they may find themselves in a situation where they can provide help to others until the paramedics arrive.

The bottom line

Mistakes happen, but their impact depends on your willingness to correct them and not repeat them. These common mistakes parents make when teaching their kids to ride a bike may not be all applicable to your situation, but they can paint a picture of how to handle the whole process. It’s better to take one step at a time, for example, getting a bike that fits, equipping them with safety gear, and teaching them to stay on the bike. That’s the best possible start to turn them into good and responsible cyclists.

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