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How to Teach your Child with Sensory Processing Difficulties How to Ride a Bike

Learning to ride a bike can be a scary and overwhelming adventure for both the parents and the child involved!  There are many components required for bike riding, such as motor planning, body awareness, trunk control, balance, self-confidence, following directions, safety awareness, timing, and sequencing.  However, one of the best things about bike riding is that the child is typically very motivated and excited to do it, as he sees his friends or other children in the neighborhood doing so already.

SPD Child riding a bike

Below are several strategies on how to get started:

  • Practice lots of balance activities:  balance is a huge part of bike riding; therefore, it is important to strengthen these skills by challenging your child’s ability to maintain various positions including standing on one leg, sustaining yoga poses, walking across balance beams, or kneeling on an unstable surface such as the bosu ball.
  • Incorporate a variety of activities with wheels:  while being able to ride a bike independently might be the ultimate goal, it is beneficial to incorporate other similar skill sets into your child’s play experience.  This will help you and your child to take the emphasis off of the fact that he does not know how to ride a bike and help to focus on the excitement of trying new things (e.g. scooter, skate board, tricycle, roller skates, etc.).  Similarly, your child might really excel at one of these activities, in which this activity can then be used as a confidence booster when the child has already mastered it.
  • Practice inside:  have your child practice simply balancing on the bike/sitting on the bike in a safe environment, such as inside (e.g. basement or playroom/living room if appropriate).  Place large pillows/beanbags next to the bike so the child feels secure, and if he falls, he will crash into the pillows.
  • Involve different family members/friends:  bike riding can be a very complex task; therefore, it can be extremely beneficial to involve different family members/friends to help with the process. Different people have different strategies and ways of motivating and sometimes one strategy will really hit home for your child.  Similarly, then the same parent and child won’t get so frustrated with one another.
  • Visual schedule:  help your child to make a visual schedule/calendar to illustrate when the child will start practicing and what skill he will work on each day (e.g. getting onto bike; peddling with both legs; ride to the corner etc); then the child can put an “x” or a sticker on the chart when he completes a day of practice, or practices a skill etc.  Visual schedules can be motivating for the child, and provide structure.
  • Take the pedals off:  taking the pedals off of the bike helps initially with learning the feel of the bike/balance. Take the bike to a small hill and have the child ride down without the pedals, this provides an introduction to moving and balancing on the bike without needing the coordination to pedal.

Learning a novel activity can be intimidating for a child, as it is a totally new experience and requires a significant amount of following directions and motor planning.  Similarly, teaching  novel activities can be nerve wracking for the parents, especially if it is a skill they have not taught before, like bike riding.  As parents, it is important to keep in mind that every child learns differently and requires different levels of support when learning a new skill.  Make sure to constantly praise your child during this challenging activity, even if it seems like the tiniest accomplishment (e.g. buckling bike helmet independently; putting kickstand down independently).  As always, feel free to talk with an occupational therapist or physical therapist if you need more individualized strategies or have other gross motor concerns for your child.

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Teaching Children To Follow Directions

Here are some easy tips to help your child follow directions:

Yes and No Directions Simplify instructions:

  • Use short, simple phrases, with episodes of repetition when necessary.
  • When possible, break down multi-step instructions into distinct component parts. Say “sit down, put shoes on” rather than “Go to the table, sit down, and put your shoes on.”
  • Be specific “please put your socks in the hamper” rather than “clean up your room.”
  • Phrase directions as a statement rather than as a question (i.e. “please put the book on the shelf” rather than “will you put the book on the shelf?”)

 Check for understanding:

  • After hearing instructions, encourage your child to repeat them back to you.

Using pictures and schedules:

  • Implement pictures to provide visual representation and establish routine. For example, use sequential pictures to show the sequencing of washing hands or brushing teeth.  These can be placed on the mirror in the bathroom.
  • Use daily or task specific picture schedules to provide visual representation of language, assist in transitions, and establish routines.

 Multi-step instructions:

  • Apply a “first, then” model (i.e., first work, then play).
  • Pair related instructions together (i.e., Get your shoes, then put your shoes on).  As consistency and accuracy of following related multi-step directions increases, begin to incorporate unrelated directions (i.e., Take off your shoes, then sit at the table).

 Use positive rather than negatives:

  • Phrase directions positively and tell your child what you want him/her to do rather than what you want him/her not to do. For example, say “please walk” rather than “don’t run.” The same specific and descriptive language should be used when praising. For example, instead of saying “You are being helpful, ” it would be better to say exactly what you want/like about his/her behavior, such as “thank you for taking out the garbage without us having to remind you.”

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