Make sure their bike and helmet fit them. Don’t buy a bike for your child to “grow into.” A bike that is too big or heavy will make teaching them how to ride much more difficult. Their bike helmet should sit in the middle of their forehead, about an inch above their eyebrows. Adjust the fit until the helmet moves around no more than an inch side to side and back and forth – if you can’t adjust it tight enough, the helmet’s too big.
Don’t just “loosen” the training wheels – take them off. It’s like ripping off a band-aid. When you loosen the training wheels, which tips the bike back and forth as your child rides, you’re actually doing your kid a disservice. They’ll be nervous every time the bike wobbles, and they’ll get used to riding while leaning to one side for support, instead of straight and balanced in the middle.
Master balancing on the grass. Practice “coasting” on a (not-so-steep) grassy hill to teach balance, rather than holding the back of their seat while they glide on pavement. Lower their seat so that both their feet can reach the ground, and have them ride down the grassy hill with their feet raised. This way, they can stop with their feet if they need to, but their bike will slow itself down by the end so they shouldn’t need to brake. Repeat that process until they’re a pro, then have them practice actually pedaling down the hill for balance plus coordination.
Help them sit at the right height. Now that they know how to balance, make sure they’re sitting at the right height. Raise your child’s seat high enough so that they have a slight bend in their knee when their foot pushes the pedal down as close to the ground as it can get.
Use pedal power to start. Teach your child to “start” their bike by having them stand with one foot on the ground and the other on the pedal in the higher-up position. Starting with both feet on the pedals gives them less power behind their push and could cause them to topple over. (Pro tip: always tuck in laces so that they don’t get stuck in the pedals or chain.)
Don’t forget the lesson on braking. One of the easiest ways for a child to get hurt is braking standing up, or way too hard, causing them to fall or slam into the handlebars. Teach your child how to brake by helping them coast slowly, as braking at slower speeds will help them to get the feel of the brakes before they start riding around like little speed demons. (You could even teach braking at the end of the grassy slope exercise, as they’ll slow down naturally from the hill and won’t be going too fast.)
Don’t stress, get frustrated, or feel defeated. Learning how to ride a bike should be fun! If your child is getting upset, seems scared, or you’re getting a little too stressed in the moment, take a step back and try again tomorrow. Once they learn, they’ll have the skill forever, so don’t rush them if they aren’t ready, or just aren’t getting it yet.