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The family way
6:00am Saturday 29th March 2014 in Lifestyle
Paralympic cycling champion and new mum Dame Sarah Storey shares her tips for families thinking of getting on their bikes this Easter.
Dame Sarah Storey's daughter, Louisa, is nine months old; and she already has a bike.
"She crawls over to it and tries to climb it," smiles Storey proudly. "We can't wait for her to be able to ride it."
It probably won't be too long a wait, either.
Yes, Louisa is remarkably young to be getting on two wheels; but then she does have a mum who won four cycling gold medals at the London 2012 Paralympics, having already been a gold medal winning swimmer at previous Games; and a dad, Barney, who also happens to have three Paralympic gold medals to his name.
Not that Storey, who was born without a functioning left hand, is only interested in her daughter riding a bike to emulate her parents' astonishing success.
"The skills children can take from learning to ride a bike are irreplaceable," she explains.
"Balance and strength are obvious examples - not to mention the self-confidence little ones can take from doing something on their own."
And there's no better time to give all these benefits to your own children. New Cyclescheme research shows one in 10 people plan to start cycling this spring, partly thanks to the warmer weather, but also, no doubt, due to sky-high fuel prices and rising parking fees. And obviously, if parents want to get on their bikes, the kids have to come too.
Even if they're too young for stabilisers, says Storey, 36, they could try a balance bike, or mums and dads can add a safety seat to the back of their own bikes.
Certainly, Storey is keen to stress how the issue safety is always paramount for cycling families.
"While cycling is a great day out for families, there are obviously safety precautions to consider. Parents should set a good example by wearing helmets and reflective clothing themselves.
"Teach children about road safety as you go along. You could even turn road safety practice into a game, like using high fives to help them learn signalling."
Children's cycling confidence should be built slowly, she adds, and families should start by cycling in the countryside or on quiet residential roads.
Slow doesn't have to mean sporadic though.
"Cycling doesn't have to be a one-off weekend activity," she says.
"Now the weather's improving, why not show your kids how easy it is to fit cycling into your daily life? Lots of women now cycle with their kids to the school gates and then cycle on to work - not only is it a great way to keep fit, it also means you don't have to be part of the endless battle for a parking spot.
"It's also a much more enjoyable journey avoiding the inevitable backseat arguments and frustrating rush hour traffic jams."
It's not only the practical benefits of cycling that Storey advocated though - it's the basic principle of fun.
"Cycling is great for your health, but also a fantastic activity to enjoy together as a family.
"Once you've got your bikes it's free to grab a picnic and explore the great outdoors whenever you get the chance. Cycling can take you to places you'd never get to in a car.
"What are you waiting for? Have fun!"
:: Storey is supporting Cyclescheme, an initiative which helps people buy tax-free bikes and cycle safety equipment. Before families set off, Cyclescheme spokesperson James Borley advises that tyre pressure, brakes, pedals and the height of the saddle should be checked. Children under the age of 10 can generally cycle on the pavement, and it's a good idea to enrol them in cycle training such as the national Bikeability programme, he suggests (bikeability.dft.gov.uk/ ).
:: For more information about cycling with young children, plus details of more than 14,500 miles of traffic-free cycle routes, visit www.sustrans.org.uk , and for more on Cyclescheme, visit Cyclescheme.co.uk
Ask the expert
Q: "My son won't eat any vegetables, and his brother will eat most of them. Why is this? They've both always been encouraged to eat everything."
A: Professor Jane Wardle, a clinical psychology professor at University College London, recently led a study into children's food preferences.
She says: "We've found that quite a lot of families have one child who's pickier than the other. And the food type that's most commonly rejected by the picky child is vegetables.
"Our evidence suggests that being picky about food generally, and especially rejecting vegetables, has a genetic basis. We discovered this through studying identical twins, who are 100% identical genetically, and non-identical twins, who share on average 50% of their genes.
"In terms of their environments, identical and non-identical twins get pretty much the same experiences. The clever science is to see whether identical twins are more similar than non-identical twins in their food preferences. If they are, this gives a strong hint that genes are involved.
"In contrast, there was very little difference between identical and non-identical twins in preferences for snacks and sweets - suggesting that love of sweet foods isn't due to genes. Children in a family tend to be similar in their liking for treat foods, indicating that the home environment is the key factor in liking treat foods.
"The good news is that a picky child can learn to like their greens, but it needs a bit more effort. We use a programme called Tiny Tastes, which involves choosing a target food and inviting the child to have a tiny taste of it (a pea-sized amount) each day for 10 days.
"If they agree to do the taste, they get a sticker, if they don't - no sticker but also no ticking off.
"By the end of the 10 days, almost all children come to like the food much more - some even love it."
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