Can't Ride a Bike at 8 - How Bad?

Filed under: Gear Guides: Big Kids

"Hi Sabrina," the email began. (Hi! Thanks for writing!) "My 8 year old son has not learned how to ride a bike yet. Is this really bad? I feel guilty that at this age he doesn't know how to ride."

Low bike-skills guilt -- I get it. As moms we are pros at feeling guilty over issues like this. Her note goes on:

"He gets frustrated very easily, and I tried on various occasions last summer to teach him only to have him 'give up' within the first 10 minutes. I didn't want to push him so I just let it go."

The letter mentioned a few other important points: 1) The same issue had arisen when Mom bought her son a skateboard (frustration followed by quitting), and 2) her son is otherwise healthy and active, he enjoys a few sports and loves playing outside.

"Am I worrying over nothing?" she asks at the end. To find out, I called my friend and Mommy Advisor Rosanne Tobey, director of Calm and Sense Therapy, a counseling service, for her take on the situation.

"My first question is, 'How frustrated is this child getting?," Tobey says. "This mother is right in her instincts to want to teach her child and in wanting to try pushing him a little further. And her instinct that they're quitting too soon might be correct also..."
"It's not so terrible that he can't ride a bike, especially since he is healthy and athletic, but I am more concerned about the patterns getting set up about him getting frustrated and quitting. Perhaps many things come easily to him and when they don't, he doesn't know what to do."

Hmm, I'm cueing up a visual of a child I know giving the ol' piano keys a gentle-yet-sad forehead-banging. So how can a mom encourage a child who is frustrated and feels like giving up? Tobey has ideas:

Break tasks into tiny pieces. For example? "Get him to sit on the bike and put his feet on the pedals while you hold the handlebars. Just stay with that for a while so he gets used to the feeling. Let him play with the seat height and the kickstand." In other words, get him used to the bike as a friendly presence, slowly.

Set your child up for success. "Is the bike too big or too small? Are the wheels inflated enough?" Once the basics are in order, you can approach the psyche side of learning:

Talk about mistakes as a good thing.
"This is hard, but use this as an opportunity to teach them what the learning process is like, and how making mistakes is an inherent part of learning. How getting it wrong is important in order to know how to do it right. They are not failing, they are at the very beginning stages of succeeding."

Okay I love that bit about starting to succeed, but what about when a child simply says: "I quit and I won't do this anymore?!"

Know when to push. "You have to know when to push ... and when to stop, and that can be really hard to figure out. If your child is crying or tantrum-ing, obviously they can't give this their best right now. If it's at that point, you say 'Let's stop and try another time.' But the message you're giving is that you're taking a break, which is different than quitting."

Catch frustration early. "Even better is if you can intervene when you first start seeing the child getting frustrated. Try talking in an encouraging way, and telling them you know they can get better. Talk about how much they've learned so far."

Get help. "It can be so intense for parents to teach their own children. If there is someone else that can help out, sometimes that takes a lot of pressure off. It's hard feeling alone -- it's okay to ask someone to step in and help you."

And then you get to be the one to show up once he's made some progress, and cheer like crazy.

Good luck!

If you've ever had a less-than-perfect parenting moment that has left you wondering, "How bad?" Send it to Sabrina at She'll try to answer as many as she can.

Sabrina Weill is the founder of the pink and princess-y gift site:
PrincessLovesPink. Many of the Mommy Advisors in this column are the writer's personal or professional friends.

Related: Sippy Cup Full of Soda - How Bad?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.