Earlier last week I shared a guest post from Kristen Lummis, the snow bunny component of our Adventure Moms project (@AdventureMoms). Today’s post will feature our rad biker chick representative, Jen Charette. A mommy to two boys, software engineer, and co-owner of a bike shop, I can’t imagine when she has time to breathe, let alone bike, but she manages to make it work with style. Below is a contribution from her about how to get your kiddos inspired about cycling…
First, this is not a post on the mechanics of teaching a child to ride a bike. There are plenty of resources out there to help you with that. This is more about the psychology of getting your kids passionate about cycling. While I’m not an expert in the minds of little ones these are the things that have worked for us.
Expose them early – If you have a child I’m sure you’ve heard that you should start reading to them even before birth. Just being around books helps them develop a life long love of reading and helps them read earlier. The same goes for cycling. Kalden has been around bikes since birth. We own a bike shop, so that helps, but he’s also been on bike camping trips nearly every weekend in the spring-fall, and seen the back of a bike from the Chariot since he was 6 months old. Seeing us having fun on bikes got him interested. If you never take them to the trailhead or on weekend bike trips how will they know how cool the sport is?
Don’t force it - While you should expose them early, make sure it’s always their idea to ride. We always bring Kalden’s bike when we go on trips. If he wants to ride we make time to take him out. If he doesn’t, we don’t push it. If you force them to ride before they are ready, it will be a disaster that might take years to correct. I still remember the first time we took Kalden sledding. He wasn’t even 2 years old and we took him on a huge hill. He was not happy about it and screamed the entire way down. This is the first year (at 6) he has enjoyed sledding. That first bad experience shaped his thoughts about sledding for many years.
Don’t freak out – They are going to fall. When our son was 3 he was being silly on his bike, did an endo, and ended up in the ER with stitches in his chin. Some parents would have taken away the bike right there. We didn’t make a big deal of it. The very next day he asked to ride his bike again. While we were freaking out inside we let him and remained calm about it. Before he made his first pedal stroke we reminded him about why he crashed (being silly). From that day on he has been in total control of his bike (maybe not always but he does not goof around on his bike).
Acknowledge their feelings – When Kalden takes a big crash on his mountain bike this is how we handle it.
Him- Crying, upset .
Us- In a upbeat non- worried tone. ” Wow that was a big crash, are you OK?”
Him-Points to where he is hurt, usually starts yelling at what “caused him” to crash like a big bad rock or root.
Us- We make sure he is really OK, try to talk to him a little about it, and then offer a Honey Stinger Chew. Once we pull the snack out he usually stops crying and moves on.
I know some parents like to say something like “you’re OK” or “wow you’re a tough boy” without asking if they are hurt. I think that approach, especially with boys, could be dangerous. What if they are hurt and don’t want to disappoint you by speaking up. Also, in the long run you don’t want them hiding their feelings to be “tough”(that is a whole other post).
Don’t miss an opportunity- One rainy day in June just after Kalden turned 3 he asked to take his training wheels off. It was not an ideal time but he was ready and wanted to try. We didn’t want his excitement to pass so we took them off and let him go. He did great and the training wheels were off forever. If we had waited for a better time it might have been okay but he also might have changed his mind and been on training wheels another 6 months. Letting him decide when and where worked.
Bring snacks- Snacks are key especially when they are just learning. There is nothing worse than getting a few miles out and having them say they are done and you still have to get back to the car. We let Kalden have as many snacks as he needs during a ride to keep him motivated and fueled. He likes Honey Stinger chews and waffles but anything they really like will work. We have a rule that he can’t have any Honey Stinger products when he isn’t biking so it’s a real treat for him.
Don’t hold them back – Well if you have a daredevil on your hands you might have to hold them back a little but you’ll be surprised at what your child can do when they are passionate and motivated. This past weekend my son rode a trail I didn’t think was ready for. He was amazing; enjoying every turn, rocky section and climb. Our rule of thumb…if there is a true danger we make him aware, otherwise he makes the decision.
Follow their lead- In the end they have to be interested for any of this to work. Some kids simply may not ever like to bike. While this should be rare in an environment where you have nurtured them in a cycling culture it could happen. I would not push it, just keeping doing what you love and hope that one day they will “roll” around.
What has worked in your family? I would love to hear stories about helping your kids get passionate about any sport!
I think all of these points are great starting points for getting children passionate about any sport, not just biking. I can definitely see how Jen’s nuggets of wisdom could apply to climbing as well. For more on Jen, check out her blog, Velo Mom, where you can read about how she juggles mommyhood, two pregnancies, mountain bike racing, and more.