Being stationed overseas presents fewer opportunities to do a lot of recreational activities that normally occupy a family’s time. There are also fewer opportunities to waste free time—mindless strolls through the mall, “hanging out” at local haunts come to mind. Depending on where you are stationed, there just may not be anything to do outside the confines of your base or housing area.
This seems to force a lot of families to focus aggressively on the activities they can do, especially with their children. In Italy, this manifested itself in a lot of children learning how to swim at early ages (3 & 4), and riding bikes at very young ages as well.
After I returned from deployment, my son was about 4 ½, and I felt bad that he still wasn’t riding a bike, although his best friend had just turned 4 and was already riding. These are two wheeled bikes—my son had been riding with training wheels for quite a while, but his friend already had his off. So, I took it upon myself to make him learn, by hook or by crook.
At first, I tried to sell it to him as a game. “Hey, let’s go ride bikes!” “Yay!” “I want to take your training wheels off!” “But I’ll fall!” Eventually, I coaxed him into taking the wheels off (which I threw away, just to avoid the temptation to regress).
As soon as this happened, his worst fears happened—he fell down. It took a long time to gain confidence, but this is how we did it:
- I walked with him. A lot. All over the neighborhood. Once he got the hang of it, I would let go, let him freak out a little, then grab the handle bars again. Once I thought he was all right, I went to the grass.
- On grass—I would give him a push, and tell him to pedal until he fell down. At first, it was only a few feet. Then, I would push him and tell him to go again. I would mentally figure out whether he beat his previous record and give him vigorous praise. I would also make out landmarks for him to pedal to. The best part about the grass is two-fold: kids can fall down a lot without getting hurt, and when they get to the point where they can pedal in grass, they find pavement is easy.
- Back on pavement. The last thing was his confidence on pavement. I tackled this by finding pieces of sidewalk that went over two stretches of grass & getting him to cross at high speed. Then crossing the road. Then, “Hey, can you ride down this little tiny bit of road, & go back into the grass?” Then it was full stretches down the block.
That was it. It took about 2 weeks from training wheels to two wheels. When we came to the States, we found 6 & 7 year old friends who still don’t know how to ride bikes. Man, it feels good. One final piece of advice—don’t push your kid faster than they want to go, or else you’ll go backwards.