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Advice what-i-learned-fi

Published on September 7th, 2013 | by Dale Jackson


What I learned while my son learned to ride a bike

My son finally said it. “I want to ride without training wheels.” Of course I was happy, but I also knew that this would likely be a challenging time.

You see, my son isn’t the daredevil type. He is the “laid back, think it through, then tell you why it isn’t as important as you think it is” type. This interest in trying something that would likely leave us both sweaty and frustrated was surprising and exciting.

I had no idea that that I would learn more that day than he did.

We started with him being Daddy’s Little Helper as I removed the training wheels. He then geared up in his helmet, mustered his courage and quickly ran down his list of demands:

“Don’t let go until I tell you.”

“Don’t go too fast.”

“Make sure there are no cars coming.”

And so on.

After running me through my own safety check, we were off and walking. The first thing to note about teaching your child to ride a bike is wherever you hold the bike is likely going to put you in some awkward, slightly crouched and leaning sideways position where you can both hold the bike, help your child and still (hopefully) maintain some forward momentum to keep them upright. If they don’t pick it up quickly, plan on a sore back until they can master it.

After the first five minutes, we both were getting frustrated and grouchy. I would run along holding him as he pedaled his little heart out down the sidewalk, only to become frustrated when I let go and watched him immediately turn and fall into the grass beside the sidewalk. I thought for sure that he was just taking the softer fall and not giving it his best, so I kept coaching him on not turning into the grass. He assured me that he wasn’t turning and that there must be something wrong with me or the bike.

Then lightning struck. Not literally, but my addled brain finally started working and I noticed that when I let go of him near a driveway, he would swerve around a lot, but make it to the other side of the driveway and back onto the sidewalk before quickly crashing into the grass. I tried it a few more times with the same result each time. I still thought that it could be that he was too scared to fall where it might hurt more, and would take the easy way out in the grass until I took him into the street. I decided maybe he just needed to have the safety areas removed so he had to succeed or else fall where it might sting a little.

I walked behind him for the first 3 steps and prepared to cautiously release him and stay by his side so that I could help keep him from hurting himself when he rode away from me. He actually pulled away from my hand and went off swerving down the street like a drunk, but riding without training wheels all by himself! He wasn’t riding a perfectly straight line. He was swerving occasionally 4-5 feet from side to side.

That is when I realized what I had missed.

In my effort to give him a safe place to learn (on the sidewalk). I had inadvertently set expectations too high for his abilities and not given him ample room to make his mistakes and correct them. Here in the present, this is something that I still remind myself of in all kinds of situations in my life, especially when raising two boys.

Lessons learned:

  1. It is really easy to be overly cautious and not allow for the amount of error and correction necessary to learn something effectively.
  2. To really learn something, you have to know more than how to do it perfectly, you have to know how to deal with it when things don’t go perfectly.
  3. Setting expectations that take into account the failures along the way and what we learn from them will often let us grow much faster than if we tried to avoid them.

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About the Author

is the proud father of two boys and has a wife who has patiently put up with him for 23 years (so far). He has worked in the video game industry for 18 years and is impatiently waiting until his children become famous and support him in early retirement.

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