There are times in most people’s lives where they stop and realise that the knowledge and skills they use at work could usefully be applied to a home situation. As a psychologist, this happens quite often and usually the realisation comes later than it perhaps should!
Recently such a realisation came to me in teaching my daughters, Millie (aged 5) and Martha (aged 3) to ride their bikes. I have spent a considerable amount of my professional life working with people to acquire new skills and studying the factors that influence them performing these skills effectively. Yet here I was, one autumnal Sunday morning running up and down, shouting random instructions and probably not being the model of a modern father. The realisation dawned that much of the practice I put in place professionally was nowhere to be seen inmy forlorn attempts at encouraging my daughters cycling ambitions. So having now got Millie riding really well on two wheels and Martha confidently following on 4 (not sure if stabilisers actually count as two full wheels but you know what I mean), what pearls of professional and personal wisdom do I have to pass on:
1. Remember that there is an optimum time to learn skills: Studies have shown consistently that when acquiring movement skills such as cycling, there are optimum ages for learning. BUT just because little Jimmy down the road was riding without his stabilisers at 3 years 10 months, does not mean everyone should. Give your child the broadest range of experiences consistently over time and sooner or later they will hit their “optimal” period and will soon be flying. Comparison with others is the surefire path to increased parental and child anxiety!
2. Do one thing at a time: Obvious I know but you’d be amazed at how often I found myself shouting a stream of instructions (“keep straight”, “keep pedalling”, “look up”, “brake!”) at a confused and completely overloaded 5- year-old! Focus on one thing at a time and if something goes wrong, don’t pick at all the contributing faults but focus on one key part and talk your youngster through that.
3. Praise: Giving your young cyclist feedback is the key to success and will ensure they want to get back on that bike again and again. No one is perfect especially when learning a new skill but after each attempt remember to tell them what went well first, then one correction to make before pushing them off with another piece of praise ringing in their ears. Feedback can be simplified into a “sandwich” approach, with two pieces of praise the bread around one single piece of constructive criticism.