For many of us, riding bikes was the main mode of transportation and entertainment as kids. But we forget how hard it is to learn and how to teach. So I did some research about how best to teach a 7-year-old to ride a bike, and here’s what I found.
How do you teach a 7-year-old to ride a bike? There are multiple strategies that you could use to teach your 7-year-old to ride a bike. You could teach them using the no pedal method, the running-with method, or the hill method. Always remember to have your 7-year-old wear a helmet that fits properly.
Teaching your child to ride a bike is an exciting, heartwarming, and monumental milestone, but it must be done properly, and safely.
The First Steps
Before you begin to teach your little one how to preform the delicate balancing act that is bike riding, you must be sure you have everything in order properly and safely.
First, you must choose a bike that fits the child properly. Do not buy a bike that is too big for the child, hoping he or she will grow into it. Doing so will completely mess with their ability to stabilize and pedal, and also be hard on their backs when reaching for the handlebars. Make sure that your child can stand over the top tube with both feet planted on the ground. He or she should feel comfortable and in control of the bike at all times.
You must also choose a helmet that fits your child’s head correctly. Choosing a helmet that is too big, too small, or not buying one at all will endanger the health and safety of your 7-year-old. As a nurse, my mother has seen plenty pediatric brain injuries from helmet oversight. Do not risk your child’s future.
The bike helmet should sit level across the middle of the forehead, no more than 1″ above the eyebrows. If the helmet sits high on the forehead or moves more than 1″ when you push the helmet from side to side or front to back, you need to adjust the fit or you may need to buy a different size. You might also consider gloves, elbow- and shinguards and knee pads. Be sure shoelaces are tucked out of the way and avoid loose pant legs.
You will need a proper location to teach your child to ride a bike. Choose a traffic-free area where a child can learn to ride safely. Find a place that is large, flat, smooth and paved. This location might be a driveway, park path, school blacktop or empty parking lot. Empty tennis or basketball courts can also work well.
Finally, you will need to prepare the bike properly. The following is a list of proper preparation steps.
- Remove the training wheels. Training wheels help kids grow accustomed to sitting on a bike and using their legs to pedal, but they won’t help them learn to balance. In fact, many professionals dislike training wheels because they teach bad steering habits from the start.
- Remove the pedals and lower the seat: This allows kids to sit upright with their legs straight and their feet flat on the ground. The goal is to help them feel more comfortable and steady as they begin learning balance. (Note: Pedals can be removed most easily using a pedal wrench.)
- Properly inflate the bike tires. The bicycle will roll more smoothly and your child will have an easier time coasting when bike tires are inflated to the correct pressure. Look for the recommended tire pressure printed on tire sidewalls.
You are now ready to teach your child to ride using the pedal-less method.
Look, Ma! No Pedals!
This method is preferred by many, because this is the easiest way to teach your child balance. It is also best for a particularly anxious child because they will feel like they have more control if you teach them to balance first.
Using the bike you have now modified correctly, you can teach your child how to balance, and how to coast. Have your child scoot around on the bike until they are comfortable with basic balance while moving with their feet on the ground.
Next, have them take a few steps to get moving then lift their feet off of the ground to coast. You can show them on your own bike by getting the bike moving and stretching your own legs out straight to the sides for balance.
Remember to keep this fun and make a game of seeing how long they can coast without putting their feet down.
After you have taught your 7-year-old how to coast, it’s time to teach them how to steer while coasting. Keep this lighthearted as well, as this can be scary for a new rider. As some game ideas, you could:
- Set up some orange safety cones in a pattern and have your child practice steering between them.
- Place a cracker on the pavement 10 feet away and encourage your child to run over it with the bike. This game teaches children to scan ahead and to direct the bike to a specific target. Place a new cracker at 15 feet out, then 20 feet.
- Place your safety cones in a circle pattern. Have your child coast towards the circle and make a big wide circle around the cones. Then have them try to go around the other direction. Challenge them to get further and further around without having to touch their feet to the ground.
After your 7-year-old has learned how to coast and how to steer, it is time to add the pedals back. Reinstall the bike pedals, but keep the seat in a lowered position. Hold your child under their armpits to keep their balance and have them practice bringing their feet back and forth from the ground to the pedals.
Setup a pedal in the 1 to 3 o’clock position. Hold the bike seat or your child’s armpits as you have them place one foot on the ground and the other on the pedal. They push down and begin pedaling. Make games of steering between cones and doing figure 8’s.
After you’ve taught them to pedal, it’s time to teach them how to brake. Have your child coast slowly and brake until they can do so without losing any control. Place a cone 20 feet ahead of your child. Have them coast towards it and brake before hitting it. Repeat until they can stop inches away from the cone comfortably. You could also play “Red Light/Green Light”, varying distance and timing.
Now, you can hop on your own bike, and have your 7-year-old follow you as you slowly turn circles or do routes. Be sure to be a good example, wearing your own helmet and riding safely. Always encourage success and keep everything light.
This is the method that I learned with. I have very fond memories of riding a little silver Haro bike, with my father jogging beside me. This one may be scary for the child at first, but just remember to constantly help them balance, and assure them that they can do this.
For this method, you will, of course, keep the pedals attached to the bike. Set up the bike seat so that your child’s leg is only slightly bent when the pedal is at the bottom (6 o’clock position).
Set your child on the seat, making sure they can reach the pedals comfortably. With you jogging closely beside them, hands on your 7-year-old’s shoulders if necessary, have the child start pedaling. Be sure to gently help them keep their balance.
Another popular way to keep your child upright as they learn to balance and to pedal is to wrap a sheet or a towel around their body. Wrap the cloth “harness” around your child’s chest, under their armpits. Hold the harness from their back, so that you have control over their balance and can catch them if needed.
Or, if you don’t want to get the laundry involved, you can grab on to the back of their bike seat. That can work too.
As they gain comfort and coordination, have them begin gently turning in either direction. It’s time to teach them how to brake with a game. When you say green, they pedal, when you say yellow they coast, and when you say red, they brake. You can set up cones in a pattern, having them weave in and out between them.
Once your child can ride fairly easily, get on your bike and have him or her follow you. (Remember to wear your own helmet.) Take it slow and easy, and make big turns every now and then. Set up a course with cones or crackers and ride it, too. If you use crackers, see who can hit the most. (Make sure your child does. Don’t be a monster.) Focus on balance and have a “slowness race” where the last person to put their feet on the ground wins.
Remember to reinforce success rather than focus on any mistakes your child makes. One of the most important parts of cycling with very young children is to know when to stop and rest.
The Hill Method
This method is best completed on a flat, grassy hill. Do NOT place your child at the top of a steep, paved mountain that is a mere two degrees from a 90-degree drop and push them down it. That would scare me, as a fully-grown adult. Also, be sure that there are no obstacles at the bottom of the small, grassy slope.
The goal of this method is to teach the child to balance as they gain momentum on the grass.
Lower the bike seat so your child’s feet can rest comfortably on the ground. Bring your child just high enough up the hill so that when you release the bike will begin rolling. Have your child straighten their legs out so that they don’t touch the ground or pedals. Release and allow your child to slow themselves down at the bottom with their feet. Walk the bike back up the hill and each time bring them up a little bit higher as their coordination, balance and comfort levels increase.
Now it’s time to teach your 7-year-old how to steer and brake. Ask your child to brake when they reach the bottom of the hill. Once they can brake consistently, have them gently turn when they make it to the bottom then brake. Repeat until they are comfortable turning then braking.
Now, teach your child how to pedal. Raise their seat so that your child’s leg is only slightly bent when the pedal is at the bottom. Let your child start with their feet on the pedals. Tell them that when they make it to the bottom, you want them to pedal. Once they are comfortable doing that, have them turn in wide circles while pedaling.
Once they are proficient and confident, it’s time to jump on your own bike and pedal with them. Take it slow and easy, making sure your child can keep up with you.
The Anxiety Wall
If your child struggles with anxiety, it may be much more difficult to set them on a piece of metal with two wheels and tell them to get started. Below is a list of tips, and some phrases you can say, to help teach your 7-year-old to ride a bike if they are overwhelming nervous.
- Get some help. A child may be more inclined to listen to a favorite aunt, uncle, neighbor, or grandparent than they might be listening to the frantic yelling of a parent.
- Stay positive. Whether you’re teaching them yourself or just there for moral support, stay positive. Anxious kids worry about letting their parents down. Use a benevolent, assured voice that projects “You got this. Great job.” Keep directions short and clear. Tell them ahead of time that you may raise your voice so they can hear you but that is not the same as yelling, and that as long as they are trying you will be proud.
- Set realistic expectations for your child. Resist saying “This will be fun!” or “It’s easy!” Riding a bike is fun; learning to bike can be hard. Acknowledge the fears and the reality, but clearly state that fears don’t get to be in charge here. “Yes, you might fall, that doesn’t feel great. But you’ll get back up. It’ll be so worth it when you’re biking!”
- Practice some positive self-talk. When I was growing up, whenever I or my siblings would say “I can’t”, my parents would always say, “We don’t say ‘I can’t’.” I’ve carried that with me my whole life. Set an example for your child by letting them see you do something out of your comfort zone, and use “I’ll try”.
- Use incentives. A child may be more willing to fall on the concrete if there is a candy bar or movie involved than if there was nothing. However, do not get too carried away with the incentives, such as Disneyland. The higher the stakes, the more pressure the child will feel.
- Focus on the end goal. Help your child realize that while the obstacles now might be scary, being able to ride a bike will make everything worth it. Don’t let the fear of falling keep them from the joy of riding freely.
- Stay calm. There is a lot of room for panic in this situation, both for you and for your 7-year-old. Do not lose your head. If an anxious child sees their parent, a figure who is normally in control, lose their cool, the 7-year-old will also lose their cool. Don’t freak out.
- Don’t rush it. Letting your child learn something new in their own time is key if you want them to learn it well. Don’t push your child to something he or she is not comfortable with. Doing so will only make them more reluctant to learn. Don’t make this a bigger deal than it is. It’s not a race. Keep it casual.
Is riding a bike too dangerous for a 7-year-old? Riding a bike is usually not dangerous for a 7-year-old. It can involve scraped knees and elbows, but usually does not incur serious injury. However, if your child does not wear a helmet, it increases their risk of brain injury by 85%. Always, ALWAYS, make your child wear a helmet. And never let them ride in the street. Always stick to sidewalks.
Where can I go to buy a bike? There are plenty of places you could go to obtain a bike. You could go to a local bike shop, Craigslist, Ebay, or even Walmart. Just be sure that the bike you purchase is the right size.
Are training wheels a good idea? Some people really like training wheels, because they seem to be an easy way to get your kid biking fast. However, some people don’t like training wheels, because it teaches kids bad form, and can be dangerous. Ultimately, it’s a matter of opinion, and is up to what your kiddo is willing to do.