A Dad's View: Learning new skills
Tom Dunmore skills

When your children are learning a new skill it can be a rough and tumble experience, finds Tom Dunmore - and not just for them

The sun is shining and the park is bustling as Ava straddles her new, bright orange bicycle and stares at the path that snakes downhill in front of her. After four weeks of intense balance bike training, this is what we've been waiting for. She pushes her helmet back and begins to talk. 'Daddy, I don't...'

I gently push her. This is no time for second thoughts. 'Daddy!' she yelps as the bike begins to roll down the hill.

'Put your feet on the pedals,' I say. She looks down, veering suddenly to the left and almost squashing an unsuspecting poodle.

'Sorry!' I shout at the dog as I run alongside and straighten up her handlebars. Then I let go, hands hovering above her shoulders as she struggles to bring the bicycle under control.

'You're doing it, Ava!'

She giggles, then resumes concentration. Two pedal-turns later she's disappearing ahead of my sprint.

'Not too fast,' I say.

'I can't slow down!'

'Use the brakes!'

'I CAN'T!' she screams. There were no brakes on the balance bike. A crucial omission, it turns out.

'Just in front of your fingers!' I shout.

Ava squeezes the lever with all her might and the front wheel stops dead – making the rest of the bike lift in the air as Ava is flung over the handlebars. She somehow manages to do a full flip and land on her bum, while the bicycle narrowly misses her as it continues on its trajectory down the slope.

Helping your baby become mobile is – for all its tumbles and tears – a bittersweet part of parenting. Each new roll, toddle and scoot is another step towards independence, and while none of us wants our little angels to grow up too quickly, there's a natural sense of achievement in watching your child develop.

But as every parent knows, development is always tinged with anxiety. A baby who rolls can fall off the changing table. A baby who stands can open the knife drawer. A toddler can wobble right into the road. And a little girl going downhill on a bike? Well, we know how that one goes.

It could be worse. My brother Joe chose to shortcut the learning-to-cycle process by grabbing hold of our dad's moving car while riding down our driveway. Needless to say, after a few seconds of exhilaration he learned the pitfalls of riding with one hand before you really know how to ride with two.

I suppose learning experiences are often painful – but when the pain fades, the lesson stays with you. At least, that's what I tell myself as I pick up my wailing, crumpled heap of a daughter and gently try to persuade her that she needs to get back on her bike. And use the back wheel's brake when going downhill. She doesn't take the advice well.

And then, out of nowhere, a knight in shining body armour appears: a boy, barely bigger than Ava but fully kitted out in BMX gear, pulls up and – rather than pointing and laughing as the six-year-old me would have done – says, 'I did exactly the same thing when I started riding.'

Ava looks up.

'You fell really well,' he adds and, before embarrassment sets in, pedals off up the hill towards the BMX track – while his mum puffs behind, rolling her eyes in sympathy.

Ava stands, wipes her eyes, picks up her bike and readies herself for a lifetime of cycling. 'Daddy, which is the back brake?'

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