Getting Back on the Bike

Angie’s story of how she taught her vestibular avoiding son to ride a bike, which in turn became a lesson to her too.


“SIT RIGHT THERE!” I yelled angrily as I placed my 8 year-old son in the garage.  “I need a time-out!”  I declared as I walked off into the house.  Once inside the house I made a beeline for the kitchen.  I grabbed myself a drink and wondered how I had gotten to this point of sheer anger and frustration.  A couple of hours earlier I had started this project determined to remain calm and level headed, but as it seems to happen with this child frequently, I had lost it.

Getting on the Bike

The project that I had determined to undertake that day was to teach this child to ride a bike. I knew, however, that this child did not want to ride a bike.  This child is my kid that is sweet and loving. In general he is mild tempered.  He is also cautious, very cerebral, and analytical.  Riding a bike without training wheels seemed like a very reckless idea to him.  In fact, anything that involves taking his two feet off the ground is one of the last things he wants to do.  He avoids sensory activities that most little boys love, including playing outside in the dirt.  Instead, he prefers reading in the quiet of his room, Lego building (he is amazing at crafting with those little blocks!) and studying maps of the world and solar system.    

As his mom, I have seen the value of peer pressure and maturity in getting him to do things outside of his comfort zone.  This summer he actually tried a climbing wall for the first time and he played on a non-competitive baseball team.  He had ridden his bike a fair amount with the training wheels and I had seen him do decent jobs coasting on the balance bike (which was by far too small for him).  I knew he was ready to ride his bike, the trouble was convincing him that he was ready.  

Back Peddling

I grabbed two of his favorite snacks out of the pantry, took a deep breath and returned outside.  He was no longer sitting where I had left him, but had roamed to the edge of our property in the name of “running away”.  I called to him and showed him the treats I had brought in my final effort to lure him in.  He came back and sat by me in the grass.  “You went to time-out?” He asked.  “Yes, I did.  I acted out of line and needed a time-out. I shouldn’t have behaved that way. I’m sorry.”  My sweet 8 year-old responded with his line that is almost as old as he is, “Apology accepted.”  This was our moment.  I knew that everything else that would happen that afternoon hinged on what happened next.  So, I continued to talk.  I told him how he was such a stubborn baby and how that trait has continued to this day.  I told him that there were a lot of good things that he could accomplish because of that trait.  But then I asked him how often I had been this stubborn back with him.  He couldn’t think of any other time when I had pushed him as hard as I had been pushing him that day.  I told him it was because I KNEW he could ride a bike.  And I felt that it was important for him to learn this skill.  And so I pushed back.  

Turning it Around

It was a short conversation of about 5 minutes but it changed the course of the whole afternoon.  Within half an hour he was riding his bike.  He couldn’t get very far or turn corners but he could ride in a straight line up and down the driveway.  I agreed that he could be done for the day as long as he agreed to three things for me.  The first, he would practice for 10 minutes every day until he was confident on his bike.  Second, there was to be no whining about bike practice.  And finally, there was no negotiation allowed (seriously, this kid would make a great lawyer one day!).  He accepted my terms and we went back inside a much happier mother-son team.

Riding off into the Sunset bike riding

Over the course of the next week he held up his end of the bargain.  Often our 10 minutes of practice had to start with me reminding him of the rules, but he always nodded pleasantly when I reminded him and he set off to practice.  Within 10 days he was riding confidently through the neighborhood and loving his time on his bike.  The day he asked if he could keep riding when his 10 minutes was up was the day I knew that I had accomplished my goal.

When I started that morning with the goal of getting him on his bike, I had no idea how hard it would be. I certainly had no intention of losing my temper with him or behaving so poorly that I had to take a time-out.  And while I hate to admit that I did those things, I am glad that it led to our moment in the grass.  In that moment, we connected.  My son felt loved, supported, and understood by his mom and that made all of the difference.  In a way, it had to happen.  It taught my son his strength and it helped me find a bit of mine.  

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