For new cyclists, developing confidence is key

Teaching a child to ride a bike must be one of the toughest activities. It certainly has been in our house. “Parent fail” reverberates in my head when my daughter tearfully says she doesn’t want to ride her bike.

We started with a pedal-less strider bike, which was great for her to learn to balance and master momentum. I thought the transition to the pedal bike would be no problem, as other parents had said it was so much easier after some time on a strider bike. I spent weeks running and holding on to her, and it didn’t feel easier. It felt like the brink of a disaster.

I knew she could do it. She did not.

Related read: How to teach kids how to pedal their bikes properly

The day did arrive when I could gradually hold on with a softer touch and then let go and she could ride alone. It turned out the main thing holding her back with biking was confidence. This is a child who’s pretty confident in most things, so it was a bit surprising to realize that her limiting factor with biking was her lack of belief in herself.

Fast forward to today and she’s riding a mountain bike. We’ve done a Pedalheads bike camp and a mountain bike camp. We ride with her and we encourage her. We spend time biking as a family. She can ride all sorts of terrain, but confidence is still our biggest challenge.

If she doesn’t think about it, she’s fine and rides proficiently. But if she does think about it, then she panics and we cycle back to a meltdown and another “parent fail” feeling while I try to figure out what I’m doing wrong.

But we keep testing out slightly harder trails so she can feel how well she does. We’re supportive—we reward her success and her trying. We model technique and we make it social with her friends.

Related read: The confidence formula

One day, we’ll look back at this phase and the struggle will be a distant memory. While we’re in it, however, it’s hard to know what else to do to create success and positive experiences to help a child gain confidence.

As I recently read in Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly, “There really is no effort without error and shortcoming, and there really is no triumph without vulnerability.” Parenting often feels rife with vulnerability, errors, and shortcomings, but I’m confident one day we’ll get to the triumphs.

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