The giving of instruction is a critical component to fatherhood. In fact, it’s likely not overstated to say that your ability to impart wisdom through skillful instruction will have tremendous bearing long-term on your relationship with your kids as well as on their successes and failures as a teen and young adult.
Now, imagining essential life instruction to a five-year-old might feel a tad far fetched, but I believe something as simple (yet truly magical) as teaching a youngster to ride a bike with a dose of dadcraft provides perfect opportunity for just such a lesson. What follows is both your guide to the removal of those training wheels and a philosophy for instruction:
- Get your running shoes on: Whether it’s with a hand on a pink princess seat or in the wake of handlebar streamers, you’ve got one position to occupy in this process…you’re alongside, keeping pace. Your pace matches theirs and it won’t be a smooth one – ranging from spontaneously locked brakes to terrifying high speeds. Even so, you’re staying with the child in order to coach and to do your best to cushion / catch various stages of falling. And even in the moment when you withdraw your direct, tangible stability, you’re not done running; match their speed and continue your support.
- Get vocal: Your fledgling rider should never be unsure of your position alongside them. They should hear instruction and guidance as they ride, comfort and strength after a fall, and (most importantly) a steady stream of encouragement and support throughout the process. Sure, there are some mechanics to riding a bike, but it’s primarily about building and sustaining confidence, and your verbal support is critical.
- Get the Band-Aids: There’s no way around this: they’re falling at some point in this process. Don’t let that reality, however, keep you or them from pursuing this endeavor. Gear them up with a helmet, do your best to catch, and be ready to deal with a fall. Learning to ride requires perseverance and pushing past difficulty and pain. This isn’t just for the kids: your position alongside isn’t out of harm’s way. Learning to ride a bike involves quite a number of skills aside from balance – pedaling while steering while balancing while observing what’s ahead is a difficult mix. Don’t be surprised if you’re the recipient of a sudden jackknifed bike straight to the kneecaps.
- Get Studious: 2/3rds of my crew have mastered balanced forward momentum on two wheels, but the learning process was different for those two rides. Yes, I still ran alongside, still vocalized my encouragement and provided band-aids for falls, but the way we got to confident riding varied. One needed lots of early, psyching-up, but when finally ready learned quickly. The other was eager to start learning, but took a few days of practice to finally get the hang of it. Expect differences in your kids, go to school on how they approach something new and difficult. Learn how best to get them back on the bike despite a scuffed knee or bruised confidence.
- Triumph: The best thing to do once there’s been sustained and repeated solo successes on the bike is to get yourself on a bike alongside them. Experience the unique joy of riding side by side. There’s a good chance the thrill of what’s been accomplished will mean you take about forty-five trips around the block, but you’re not done until they’re done. In the meantime, celebrate the triumph and soak up the moments together. You want to be a part of significant celebrations and joys for them now and for the rest of their lives.
Teaching a kid to ride a bike is chance to develop some grit … for you and your kid. It also may provide a chance for you to share a bit of your story, reflecting on how you once learned this skill too. Through it all, do you best to recognize the fun of moments in fatherhood that require a little clean up at the end.