Balancing Act

child balancing on bike
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My four-year-old daughter has a balance bike—a bike with no pedals. She got it when she was two but her legs were so short she couldn’t touch the ground. At three, she didn’t want to have anything to do with the bike. I was excited for her to turn four because I was sure she’d be ready to ride!

We took it out to the road. She got on, gave three pushes with her feet, and about eight seconds later, burst into tears.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“It won’t stay up!” she sobbed, her hair a mess, tears making tracks through the grime on her face.

“But that’s what it’s supposed to do. You have to balance it! Did you expect it to be like a motorcycle?”

“I want my trike!” She cried loud enough for the neighbors to notice.

“Let’s just go a little further,” I suggested. “You’re already doing better!”

“I want my trike!” She screamed so loudly that the neighbors stopped working on their yard and just stared at us. I was getting nervous.

“We’re not turning around. Ride to Lillian’s house and then we’ll go home.”

“Noooooo!” she wailed and stopped on the side of the road.

“Let’s go. Now.” I dragged her, (carefully not saying what I was really thinking, “Before the neighbors call the police or Child Protective Services.”)  Once we got into the garage, she wanted to ditch the balance bike and go back to Old Faithful, her trike. Since it had already been a disastrous experience, I said no.

Both unhappy, we sat in the house for the rest of the afternoon. I reflected later… how could the entire situation have gone better?

This sort of impasse had happened between us before. I’d ask her to do something five or six times (like put on her coat, pick up her shoes and toys,) and then I’d get mad and feel like I had to  make a threat before she would do them.

We’d clearly been having some struggles. Constant meltdowns, resistance, and yelling (on both ends) have been the name of the game for a while.

Something or someone needed to change. And since only one of us is an adult, that someone was me. Though I have zero time to read parenting books, I picked up the book,  How to Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk. 

Here’s what I learned I need to work on:

  1. Accept and encourage your kid’s feelings.

Yeah, I haven’t been doing that. Even ridiculous behavior (or what I perceive as ridiculous) I have to acknowledge—it’s like when you kid freaks out over the peas touching the mashed potatoes on the plate. When the bike drama erupted what I could have said was, “That darn bike. It’s giving you a hard time, huh?”

  1. Instead of punishing, encourage cooperation.

On Bike Drama day, I relegated her to the house for the rest of the afternoon. What I learned I could have told instead was tell her I was sad that she was frustrated over her bike; then we could have brainstormed ways to make riding the bike more fun for her (streamers, stuffed dog attached to the back, etc.)

I also could have been more descriptive ahead of time of what riding the bike would be like so her expectations would have been different from the get-go.

  1. Encourage autonomy and self-confidence.

I tried with this one. I really did. BUT… I didn’t do it well. I could have respected her struggle and just said, “Okay. Can we try again another day?” and gotten out the trike. Instead of appreciating her work and effort, I got mad that she hated the bike.

Tonight, armed with the book in one hand and an encouraging smile, I’m going to go home and try to convince her that we all need to get back on the bike.

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