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Bike Commuting with a reluctant child

It's wonderful to live in a city where biking and walking to school isn't just a one day affairSafe Routes for Schools is an ongoing, year-round program to offer support to parents and kids who bike and walk to school.  And, urbanMamas are teaming with the BTA right now to come up with even more ways we support our grassroots efforts to take alternative modes of transportation, as families, every day to school and work.

Even with these programs in play, we may not always have the children who want to come along for the ride.  Our family bikes to school probably 70% of the time (so far this year), and the bus or car days are real treats.  Some mornings, they beg to drive to school.  Janice is encountering similar resistance:

My husband bike commutes and I’m trying to bike more and drive less, but my eight-year-old is reluctant. And if you’ve ever biked with a reluctant kid, you understand the true meaning of “passive-aggressive”! Who knew pedals could ever turn that slowly?

Anyway, we already have a system where he earns a reward for every 10 cheerful rides, but now that’s not enough. I’m looking for tips on motivation and equipment (any knitting patterns for child-sized lobster-claw mittens out there?...and I'd also love to chat with other uMamas about safety, routes, and benefits.)

I have to go pick him up from school now (with the car, since he was “too tired” to bike this morning), but I’m really looking forward to some help from this great bike-friendly community!

Suggestions for motivation?  Getting the kids out on the bike lanes, especially when it's cold and sort of damp?  What's your best rainy-day outfit?  Best "I-don't-wanna" treat?


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I think it's important to have buy in from your child. If biking is tramatic for him now he may never want to be a bike commuter in the future. Maybe waiting for him to be ready will pay off in the future. I might be wrong (I'm only the parent to one 15 month old and he hates, hates, hates the Burley) but it seems to me that you want to make biking a positive activity. Could you have him ride the bus instead? That's public transportation.

I was really getting into biking with my 2 year old daughter this summer for fun when it started to become much less fun. She was into getting into the bike seat on the way to our destination, but started to continually fight getting back into the bike seat for our ride home. After a huge drama where she refused to get in the bike seat for our ride home and we ended up walking the bike home a great distance, I felt very reluctant to ride with her again. I think we've done it once since and it was only a one way trip. We probably won't try biking again regularly until next spring. Hopefully we have a better experience then!

maybe a different biking setup, like a tandem? or some sort of special treat like a new helmet? my two year old is still very into biking, so I don't have any actual experience to offer. but for anyone with a little little one who isn't into the trailer, a front mount seat might be good. there are ones that mount onto the top tube (weeride) or others that attach to the handlebars (bobike), and our daughter loved it until she got too big. she is now in a rear mounted seat, which she also likes.

We've got the opposite problem at our house- we have to get permission from our daughter NOT to bike! This is our second year of biking to school. The first year my husband's goal was to bike her to school at least 1/2 of the days, which I think we approximately did. This year his goal is the same, but our daughter's goal is to bike 100% of the time! If we aren't biking she insist upon carpooling with a neighbor, "because it is better for the earth."

We have a Bike Friday Family Tandem, so the adults get to set the pedeling pace, but we can really tell when she's pushing harder and really helping- which we'll often request up the hills. We've also had a bike bus with 2 other families this year, which helps everyone be a little more motivated, especially the one 8 year old who is on her own bike. We also like to play games (spotting license plates from different states, pretending to be riding different animals), sing songs, and otherwise keep the mind occupied. At the end of last year, when my daughter was dragging a little from riding everyday we promised a prize if she biked every day for the rest of the year, unless the adults decided differently. That was huge motivation, and totally worth the trip to the toy store.

Our family is trying to bike to school more and more, and I think we are up to biking more than half the time. Sometimes it's hard to get the girls willing to get on the trail-a-bike or the Xtracycle. But, we do play games like - point out all the [color of the day] cars. One day it's white cars, another day it's green. We also look at buses, passers by, and just generally banter on the ride. Song singing is also a fun activity for us. I have been toying with the idea of bringing some small radio thingy with us while we ride so we have beats on the bikes. Also a new addition to our trail-a-bikes is a bell on each one, so they can be the ones to ring the bell when we pass pedestrians, etc. Another game we play is: spot-the-biker-with-no-helmet. We don't call them out verbally, but we do point out whenever we see non-helmet-wearing bikers.

I have been toying with the idea of decorating our Xtracycle and/or painting our tag-alongs. I have seen a trail-a-bike completely painted pink! My girls would love it!

I would also love to hear other tips on keeping the kids enjoying the fresh air on the bikes.

Both my girls were baby bikers and my dedication has waxed and waned - mostly a function of my needs. Now they're 5 and 9 and the various forms of biking (on their own, trailer, trail-a-bike, co-pilot...) are no longer much of an issue. We choose what best fits the situation.

A couple of bits I can offer on the reluctant baby...I formed the opinion (which drove my decisions) that a baby refusing to get in a bike seat was no different than a baby refusing to get in a car seat. I chose not to let it stress me and treat it more as something that we just have to do. I also chose to ignore the disapproving looks of others - their opinions had no business informing my choices! Hang in there and don't give up because the more normal you make it, the easier it is!

Tips on games - our current favorite is My Favorite Animal (or Food, Flower, etc.) in which you offer three clues and they have to guess. The winning guesser goes next. I'm amazed at how many flowers my girls know and can describe. Both girls love that game. We also do a LOT of singing and making up our own words to the songs which can be tons of fun. Spot the Helmetless Cyclist or Spot the Cyclist Who Didn't Signal just sort of happen.

Please don't get discouraged but be safe and smart. I'm hoping soon there will be more attention focused on moms and families out there when it comes to policy, products, conversations, resources, etc. I'd love to hear more ideas!

On a slightly different note, in our family, my oldest-8- would love to bike, but due to the hills and a busy street crossing we normally walk. I love the time we spend together, hearing about her day, watching them jump in puddles, ... walking with them, especially on the quiet neighborhood street gives me time to really focus on them and our conversation.

I feel so fortunate to live in a part of Portland that allows me the opportunity to walk with my girls. Crossing the busy street gives me ample opportunity to teach them about looking over your left shoulder for cars, and checking to see if the car zooming down Sandy will really stop at the red light.

Another thing about walking is we can take a playdate home and not worry about car seats. And it gives those children who are normally driven to school an opportunity to walk.

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