Help Your Child with Sensory Issues Learn to Ride a Bike Safely
Updated: Sep 5, 2021
Do you want to help your child with sensory issues learn to ride a bike safely? One of the charms of living in my neighborhood is that the police officers will stop kids on bikes and issue them coupons for free ice cream cones if they’re wearing their bike helmets! It’s a delightful surprise to the kids and a great reminder of the importance of bike safety. In fact, you should replace a helmet every 2 years regardless, and NEVER keep it in direct sunlight (such as in your car). Is your child in need of a new helmet? Whether yes or no, I urge you to bring your child to the nearest bike shop and ask them to adjust the helmet properly for him for maximum safety. Or check this link on adjusting your child’s bike helmet. Or check this video on properly fitting a helmet:
And please, don’t assume that because you’re an adult you can go without a properly fitted helmet when YOU are riding!
Help Your Child With Sensory Issues Learn To Ride A Bike
Bike riding is a great form of exercise and transportation, offering kids a sense of independence. Children with sensory issues often need extra help in learning to be comfortable bicycling. Part of their struggle with riding a two-wheeler is the difficulty of planning and quickly carrying out movements while on an unstable bike that they must control.
1. Choose the right bike. Encourage your child to start early riding a tricycle to begin to build biking skills, and then invest in a small, low-to-the-ground two-wheeler with training wheels. Both genders may do better starting out with a “girl’s” bike with a dropped support bar, which makes it easier to mount and dismount. Also, wider tires are easier to balance on than thinner, racing tires.
2. Adjust the bike so it’s easier for your child to manage it while learning to ride.Make sure the seat is large enough for her and consider replacing it with a wider or longer seat (seats can be sold separately). Adjust the seat’s texture if necessary, with a nylon cover, or a towel tied over the seat, if this will make it easier for her to feel the seat underneath her and make her feel more secure. Bikes are most comfortable to ride for long stretches when the seat is adjusted so that when the rider is seated, the balls of her feet touch the ground. However, at the beginning of learning to ride and feel confident on a bike, a child may need the seat lowered so that her feet are flat on the ground when she is sitting. You may want to remove the pedals while she practices pushing herself with her feet while seated, and balancing.
3. Break down the skill into steps. Have her propel herself with her feet, then lift them up and try to balance as the bike is moving, and stop herself with the handbrakes just before putting her feet down. In this way, she will learn to balance, then to use the brakes, then add in the pedaling step. You might try positioning your child on the bike at the top of a short, very gentle slope. Hold the seat and one side of the handlebars as he rides down the slope so he can feel his feet on the pedals as they move.
4. Try training wheels. After the child has become comfortable with training wheels, reposition the training wheels to be slightly off the ground. You might encourage the child to listen for the sound of the training wheels hitting the pavement and practice bike riding while trying not to “make that sound,” which means he is not relying on the training wheels. As you see him becoming more competent, move the training wheels higher so that he is even more reliant on his sense of balance.
5. Protect her from injury. Encourage your child to wear long sleeves and long pants and even protective pads when first learning to ride if she will tolerate these clothing items, which will lessen the impact if she falls and keep her from getting discouraged. Practice in a large open lot with few visual distractions. Also, be sure her bike helmet fits snugly. Use the sticky-backed pads to adjust the fit if necessary. The helmet should not fall backward or forward or swish side to side while the child is riding, and the chin strap should secure it in place. You may want to desensitize the child’s head with massage or vibration before placing the helmet on her.
6. Be patient and encouraging. Teach your child that learning to ride is a process. Challenge her to push herself just a little each time she rides so that she doesn’t become overwhelmed and avoid riding altogether. Be sure to celebrate her triumph when she makes that first two-wheeled ride on her own, and remind of how proud you are that she persevered at this challenging task.
You'll find more sensory smart parenting tips in Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues (winner of TWO book awards).