Knowing What Your Kids Need

I was so mad I thought I was going to explode. I can't remember a time when I was that angry.

Our middle child was just beginning to learn to ride a bike. She was so excited, and so was I. The joy of seeing your kids experience and accomplish new things is hard to put into words.

A woman in our neighborhood said that she had a gently used bike that she wanted to pass along to our daughter. Emma had been using her big sister's old bike, but this bike was going to be hers!

Early one morning we set out on a short walk to pick it up. With helmet in hand, she bounced, skipped, and jumped the whole way talking about how happy she was to be getting her own bike.

When we arrived our neighbor was standing in her driveway with the garage door open. Emma's new bike was on display. We talked for just a few moments. I could feel the anticipation radiating off Emma. She was ready to ride. And I needed to get home to get on my way to work.

We said goodbye and pulled the bike to the end of the driveway. With wide eyes and an ear to ear grin, Emma buckled up her helmet, straddled the bike, and off she went.

I was so hopeful for this moment and so was she. The night before, she had been practicing up and down our sidewalk in anticipation of the following morning. And what I hoped was going to be an epic storybook moment of Emma confidently riding away with her wavy hair flowing in the wind from underneath her helmet, watching her get smaller and smaller with each street block . . . turned into an epic disaster.

Within a matter of seconds of straddling the bike, she lost control and went into the grass. Her feet slipped off the pedals and she slid off the seat. She was still standing but was twisted up in the bike. I quickly ran over to help her get untangled.

Encouragingly I said, "It's ok. No big deal, let’s try it again." She refused. Disappointed and discouraged she said she wanted to be done.

"Emma," I said, "it's okay. We all make mistakes like that. The best thing to do is try again." She responded saying she didn't want to.

My thought was, "We can do this. We aren't giving up this easily." So, I suggested that we walk to the end of the block, cross the street, and try again on the next block. She didn't respond, but quietly whined and whimpered as we walked.

I took that to mean she was in agreement with my plan. After we crossed the street I stopped and knelt down. In my most positive and encouraging voice, I said, "Ok Emma, here we go. I know you can do it." And motioned her toward the bike.

However, in that moment I quickly realized that her silence in response to my suggestion wasn't so much agreement, as much as it was fear. When I moved her toward the bike she lost it. She wailed, "No, I don't want to!"

Rather coldly and matter-of-factly I said, "Ok, then we need to walk." She didn't want to do that either and continued to whine and wail. And rather than practicing compassionate curiosity with her to try and help her express what she was feeling, I got angry. She wasn't complying with my directions and it was getting to the point that I needed to get home so that I could get to work and get on with my day.

This storybook moment didn't turn out as I had expected and now it was spiraling out of my control.

My directions about walking turned into a command, "You will walk!" Then to a threat, "If you don't there will be consequences when we get home!" She didn't budge.

My response? Call her bluff. I said, "Fine. I'm leaving and taking the bike. You can stay here." I was fully expecting her to chase after me as I walked away and claimed victory over her "immature" behavior. But with feet firmly planted she yelled, "No. Don't go!” And pulled the bike out of my hands.

Stunned and shocked, my anger turned to rage. Here I was being openly defied by a five-year-old. At this point, the neighbors were coming out to the sidewalk to see what was going on. My blood was boiling.

I was stuck. I didn’t know what to do. So, I called my wife at home and she came to the rescue. We finally got home and Emma ran off to her bed crying. How quickly a hope-filled morning came crashing to the ground.

As I sat at the kitchen table stupefied by what just happened, my wife reminded me that the things that usually help Emma turn the corner in situations like that are compassion and love rather than challenge and confrontation. I let out a heavy sigh knowing she was right and made my way upstairs. I climbed onto Emma's bed and lay next to her. She welcomed me and moved towards me.  Within a matter of a few minutes she calmed down and we went back downstairs to talk about what happened and carry on with our day.

As I reflect on that moment, I can't help but wonder if that was what she needed all along, a hug and a little love. I so desperately wanted her to persevere, not give up, and conquer her fears. I wanted her to ride her new bike!

I have no doubt that she will master riding a bike very soon. It will happen. Maybe not in the way that I hope, or in time that I desire, but it will happen. In the meantime, what I need to do is recognize what my kids need rather than what I want them to achieve. I need to focus on loving them rather than pushing them. Who knows, in that moment, a hug and a little love may have been the very thing that she needed to get her back on that bike.