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Peter Baksa

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Take the Training Wheels Off

Posted: 10/31/11 09:27 PM ET

"What am I to do? I am so frustrated!" she cried from the other end of the street. "He just won't let me take them off."

Nancy, an ex-girlfriend from high school, now years later, a single-parent, referred to her son who had been riding his bike with training wheels for nearly six months now. It was time for the transition but something was holding him back.

As a camp counselor and life guard at a local YMCA, I would teach swimming lessons. I earned a reputation for dealing with problem campers, some with anger issues, and children that would not go near the water or participate in swimming lessons. They would assign me the children who were too old to be in camp, and just out-and-out discipline problems that disrupted the other groups. For me it was an exercise in compassion and an opportunity to hone leadership skills.

In the beginning, I watched these kids closely. What made them tick I wondered? What made them laugh? What made them happy? And most of all what caused them to be fearful. I noted several techniques that I used one by one, but in general speaking to them directly using eye contact and speaking to them as adults was always my first step.

I had a one camper every year who would refuse to get into water. One that stands out was a tiny young 9-year-old lad named Giles. Giles stood about 6" shorter than anyone else in the class and had a tiny frame to match. Giles feared the water and would not participate in the lesson, let alone get in the water. Giles' parents were upfront and warned me that they had tried year after year to get Giles to get in the a water to no avail. I would always bring the camper closer to the problem/fear and in this case, asked Giles to assist in the lessons. I would give him a whistle, slowly got him to put his feet in the water "so he could be heard by the other swimmers," then I would have him stand in the water helping each swimmer out at the ladder. Finally, I would have Giles instruct the other swimmers on how to do a ledge kick calling out the changes in speed leading the group through the exercise. I watched as Giles fear diminished and his personality brightened with each passing day until I had changed his view of water by changing the way he looked at it.

By the end of summer Giles could swim with the best of the group. Nancy knew this about me from our working together at the YMCA. She decided to recruit me when it came time for her son to lose the training wheels off his bike.

I immediately noticed the training wheels on her son's bike were no longer touching the ground. He was already riding without them. "Let's take those off," I said. I was child-sitting for the day for the sole purpose of getting these wheels off.

"No Peter, I'm not ready."

"Sure you are; let's give it a try."

After I removed them, he got on the bike, but couldn't get enough momentum to stay up and fell right over.

"See Peter, I can't do it. Put them back on."

"Let's try it again, this time I'll push." I grabbed the back of the seat and started pushing him.
He was pedaling and riding perfectly. I ran as fast as I could to continue holding the seat.

"You're doing it!" I cried. "I'm going to let go now."

"No Peter, don't let go. I can't do it."

I let go, and he stopped pedaling. The bike rolled a few more feet, began to wobble, then fell over.

"I can't do it. Peter, please put the training wheels back on."

He was like a circus elephant tied to a stake in the ground. That elephant is strong enough to push over a tree, but because she was tied to a stake as a baby when she felt that she wasn't strong enough to pull it up based on her past perception of the problem, she continues to believe it can't be done.

How many of us approach life situations with our training wheels on; afraid to take them off or like the elephant, unable to move from our current life situation because of our past belief systems. Do you stay in a job that you are comfortable with that is no longer fulfilling and where you are under-compensated because you are used to having your training wheels in place. Many of us are suffering the backlash of the current economic recession and are faced with financial challenges. This is a great time to take the training wheels off our consciousness and begin to observe our thinking and sift through options.

Back to the training wheels.

After several hours of no luck I decided that I was the problem. That I had to change my thinking about the problem in order to change Nancy's son's. I took the pedals and training wheels off completely and had Nancy's son simply walk himself along, this action led to lengthen strides until he moved the bike with such velocity so as to be able to lift his feet off the ground. After 20 minutes of gliding around he was balancing himself without the training wheels and without the pedals. I reattached the pedals without the training wheels and he took off down the street.

If the traditional way of doing things isn't working for you, change the way your are looking at the situation. Be open, humble and gracious. This thinking automatically opens you up to new solutions and for others to lend a helping hand as well. Ask yourself what you would do if the current solution didn't exist. Now you're looking at it from a different perspective. You'll be amazed with what you can come up with!

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