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Everything I know about life I learned riding a bike: How to teach your kids essential life lessons

Of all childhood adventures, learning to ride a bicycle is by far one of the most profound. For children, it's often their first taste of independence and their first experience with self-reliance. As they learn to pedal and go faster and faster, they often feel enlightened and free. It's these emotions that shape their personality and instill confidence in them for years to come.
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When adults look back on their childhood bicycle experiences, many are filled with a sense of enlightenment.

Regardless of whether their childhood memories are happy or sad, the life lessons they learned from riding their Schwinn Phantoms, Roadmasters, and Huffys are invaluable and often provide a feeling of nostalgia they yearn to carry with them on a daily basis. And when asked questions such as, "Who taught you to ride?" "What lessons did you learn?" and "What about you is the same now as when you were a little girl or boy?" they usually discover the deeply personal impact learning to ride a bike had on their emotional development.

The fact is that we are all deeply tied to our past bicycle riding experiences. And when we teach our children the basics of riding a bike, we are also inadvertently teaching them vital life lessons that will prepare them for adulthood.

As you encourage your child to ride a bike, think back to your own childhood bicycle experiences and relive these lessons from the past.

Lessons of confidence and self-reliance
As parents, we all want our children to grow up to be independent and proud of their accomplishments. We also want them to have the confidence in themselves to take risks and reach their goals. The question is, "How do you instill these traits without the lesson becoming overly obvious?"

Jodi, a physical therapist, says that she can trace her self-confidence to the day she gave up the training wheels on her blue-and-white striped bike. Although she told her dad that she was ready for this big step, it was a long time before she allowed him to let go of the bike. Says Jodi, "He kept telling me not to look back...to keep pedaling and look straight ahead. When I finally rode by myself, my confidence soared." Jodi carried that feeling into adulthood and teaches her children confidence the same way her father did.

Self-reliance, the feeling of being responsible and capable of taking care of yourself, is another life lesson well-adjusted children must learn. When Suzie, a psychotherapist, learned to ride a bike at age eight, she felt as if she could take on the world. Throughout the lessons, her father kept telling her that he'd watch out for her and take care of her. Four years later, when her father suffered a life-threatening heart attack, her image of safety was altered.

For the first time she realized that she would have to take care of herself one day. From that day on, riding her bicycle became synonymous with independence, for when she rode, she was in control of her destination and was taking care of her own needs and wants.

Today, the image of a bicycle defines several characteristics to her, including freedom, growth, risk-taking, and moving into the world. These are developmental traits successful adults strive to possess.

Lessons of acceptance
Few children like to stand out and be different from their peers. They want to fit in and will often do so at any cost. When children are unable to accept differences in others, prejudice and bigotry develops. That's why as parents it's essential that we teach our children the importance of accepting others for who they are.

Ahmed, a web developer, was 13 when he learned to ride his bike. By bike-riding standards, Ahmed was a "late bloomer" and the only one of his friends who could not ride a two-wheeler. He wanted so much to fit in. Nonetheless, he remembers that his father and friends accepted the fact that he had to learn to ride when he was ready.

As he looks back on this moment, he believes that he learned how important it is not to rush things and to accept people and circumstances for who and what they are. Only then can you be true to yourself and place your priorities in order.

Likewise, Lisa, a public relations entrepreneur, recalls her first bike riding experience as a life-changing event. When she let go of the handlebars the first time and pushed through the wind, everything and everyone sped by -- it was an exhilarating experience. She never let that feeling go.

As such, she now has a great spirit of independence and encourages others to express their authenticity as well. She accepts a variety of personality types into her life, knowing she will grow and learn even more from their experiences. Her greatest lesson is that this is her life and she must live it the way she wants. By accepting other people's choices and career paths, she finds that others are more accepting of her as well.

Lessons of encouragement
To foster our children's development and self-growth, we need to encourage them to be all they can be. However, encouragement is so much more than granting permission or cheering, "go for it." True encouragement means instilling a sense of self-worth and letting the child know that no matter how hard he or she falls, you will be there to pick them up and help them start again.

Sabrina, an equal employment specialist, says that her parents continually encouraged her to reach her goals. So when her goal was to learn how to ride a bike, they were right by her side the entire time. As Sabrina explains, "My parents felt that they should do everything with their children. When I learned how to ride my bike, they encouraged me by saying, 'You're coordinated. You can do it.'" Although Sabrina was only five years old at the time, the positive reinforcement her parents gave her stayed with her and made her believe anything was within her reach.

For Cheryl, a meeting professional, learning to ride a bike meant having the courage to try something new. She was a little scared that she might fall, so her grandmother encouraged her by telling her the number one secret to bike riding and life -- "'Don't look back,' she said. Looking back means doing what you've always done." That philosophy stayed with Cheryl and today she encourages others to never give up, to always move forward, and to do what you have to do to make things happen.

Without proper encouragement, it's easy to become relaxed and have your dreams fall by the wayside. When we encourage our children to take action, we help them move through life and reach their goals.

Lessons of honesty and speaking up for what's right
Everyone wants children who are honest and who speak truthfully to right a wrong. This is the essence of using "straight talk" -- a way to build rapport with others, solve issues, and create meaningful relationships. It's about being honest about your feelings without anger or accusation. When you use straight-talk, you're speaking in a direct and truthful manner that makes you self-confident and will earn you the respect you deserve. Children cannot learn this vital lesson unless they see it in action. That's why being honest about expectations and succinctly speaking your mind are powerful teachers for children of all ages. When Barbara, a teacher, was a child, she used to watch her brother ride his bike around the neighborhood. Because she was a girl, she had to stay home and do chores while her brother was allowed to have fun. She harbored great feelings of resentment for those times.

Looking back, she realizes that had she spoken up and asked him to teach her how to ride, she would most likely have developed into a very different person. Today she teaches her students the importance of speaking up for what you believe. She doesn't want other children to repeat the mistake she made.

Michelle, a sales and marketing professional, learned about honesty from her mother. When her mother taught her to ride a bicycle, she promised she'd stay by Michelle's side -- and she did. As Michelle says, "She was there, she was supportive, and she was honest. She didn't say she'd be there and then give me a push and say, 'You're on your own.'"

Now, when Michelle is in circumstances that demand honesty, she's not afraid to tell it like it is. And the more people she is honest to, the better she feels about herself and her values.

The path to lifelong learning
Children have an inherent desire to learn and soak up all the wisdom and experiences their parents will let them enjoy. In order to give your children the most fundamental life knowledge, it's imperative that you make learning these life lessons a top priority, as they will stay with them forever and will shape their personality.

Teaching your children to ride a bicycle is a natural catalyst to begin this learning process. When children get their first taste of freedom and adventure they'll be eager to learn more and will be receptive to the lessons you can give them.

Teach your children to ride a bicycle and you enable them to take the ride of their life!

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