I grew up in a home obsessed with safety. I wasn’t allowed to do anything that carried any type of risk. I didn’t climb trees or start campfires. I was taught that there was danger around every corner. I grew up afraid of things that apparently posed little to no risk. (I was told that cassette tapes were potentially dangerous because they could unwind and a small child could be strangled by them.) I haven’t wanted my kids to grow up held hostage by fear so I have worked very hard not to pass my fears along to my children.
I have to say though that the thought of them driving and being on the roads with other drivers without me there was very scary for me. I wanted to keep them in the bubble of my vehicle with me. Knowing that they could potentially be hurt or killed in an accident is terrifying. The potential danger makes it critical that they learn how to drive well.
Due to my fears, I considered just having a “professional” teach them to drive by sending them to driver training school but I knew that that alone would not be sufficient practise. I was going to have to face my fear head-on and teach my teens to drive!
So far, two of our seven kids are driving. In just two years, three more will be old enough to get their learner’s permits (where we live, you are able to get a learner’s permit at 14). Both of our drivers learned with us as well as taking in-class and in-car driver training at a defensive driving school.
While I still have a lot to learn and am far from a perfect parent or driver, here are a few tips I’d like to pass on about teaching your teen to drive.
1. Start early.
Teaching your child to drive doesn’t start when they get their learner’s permit. It starts virtually from the time they are born. When you first buckle them into a carseat and put your own seatbelt on every time you get in the vehicle, you are beginning their training.
When your child is two or three (particularly boys), they will likely be interested in different types of vehicles and in how your car runs. This is a good time to begin introducing small safety tips in the course of everyday driving. You can casually mention things you’re doing such as checking behind you before you back up or putting the parking brake on when on a hill. These small things can just become a natural part of car rides and start planting seeds in your child’s brain about safe driving.
When your child gets to be an age where they are more aware that they will be driving someday, you can start a running dialogue as you drive of what you are doing (and why) and point out what other safe and not-so-safe drivers on the road are doing. You can begin asking questions and engaging them in active learning about road rules and safety.
Twice now when driving with my kids we have seen drunk drivers and called in to the police. In one of those cases, we actually followed the drunk driver at a safe distance of course (who was presenting a huge risk to others) so the police could track him down and saw his dramatic arrest. I told my kids what was happening during the incident to impress upon them that drinking really does impair your ability to drive and hopefully create a lasting memory for them. We watched him hit curbs and swerve into the lane of oncoming traffic as well as drive erratically in his own lane. Then they watched as he was handcuffed and put into a police vehicle. They don’t need much further convincing that drinking and driving don’t mix!
Another way that you can start early in your child’s driver’s education is by allowing them the opportunity to learn the feel of driving by having them drive go-karts, motorbikes, riding lawnmowers, snowmobiles, and bikes. This will give them a tremendous head start not only in ability, but also in confidence when they begin actually driving.
2. Model good driving.
Modelling good driving also begins when your children are very young. They are watching and picking up your habits. All of us pick up bad driving habits over the years. Whether it’s driving with just one hand on the steering wheel, not always signalling, not wearing our seatbelt, or texting while driving, our kids see everything that we do and it increases dramatically the chances that they will do the same. Be aware of your bad driving habits and try to change them.
Know the laws of the road where you live and follow them. If your child is with you when you get a ticket for speeding, a rolling stop through a Stop sign or not wearing your seatbelt, that will leave an impression on them. They may be left thinking that those things aren’t so bad to do if their mom or dad does them.
Children do what you do, not what you say to do.
3. Teach them stress management.
There are very few things more dangerous than a driver under stress. We’ve all been there. You’re lost in a strange city (or in your own) and late to get to an important appointment. The traffic is heavy and you are feeling the pressure. It’s those type of circumstances that can result in an accident.
Teaching your child when they are very young and as they grow to manage their stress can make the difference in that type of situation. I teach our kids about their emotions and how to manage them as well as give them strategies for calming themselves down. I don’t do this in relation to their driver training but the two do intersect when they are in a stressful driving scenario.
When you yourself are in a stressful driving situation, talk them through what you are doing to keep yourself calm. If they are driving and come across something hard, remind them to breathe and stay calm.
4. Train in different road conditions.
We live in a place that experiences all of the seasons to the full extent. This means that our kids will be driving in snow storms and in rain. It means that they will be driving in the dark because in certain times of the year, it’s dark by 4 in the afternoon. They need to learn what to do on icy roads or how to navigate deep snow.
While your child has their learner’s permit, take them out into an empty parking lot in winter and have them practise stopping, turning, parking, and backing up in the snow and on the ice. Talk them through different scenarios and what to do in each and then recreate possible situations and have them practise what to do.
You do not want the first time they drive in adverse road conditions to be after they have their full driver’s license and are by themselves.
Another way to prepare your child for difficult driving situations is to run through different scenarios with them and go over what the appropriate responses would be. Be sure that they know what to do in case of an accident or in case they are ever stranded somewhere. Equip their vehicle with a first aid kit and teach them to carry an extra blanket in their trunk, especially in the winter.
For our boys, we chose to pay for a one year membership to a motor association that provides roadside assistance for each of them for their first year of driving.
5. Give them opportunities to practise.
It is easier and faster to get places if you drive there yourself, but give your new driver the chance to practise every opportunity you can. When our older boys were learning to drive, I would sometimes invite them out in the evenings to drive around in the country by where we live or if I had errands to run in town, I would ask them to be my chauffeur. Those times together doubled as driving practise and precious time spent together.
There is nothing as effective as practise and lots of it.
Our older boys are both the proud owners of cars now which they bought with their own hard-earned money. They drive every day and I can only hope that I have given them enough knowledge and practise to be good drivers. I will admit to spending some evenings in prayer because of them being out in bad road conditions. They have both wound up in the ditch already on our icy winter roads but thankfully, neither have been hurt.
You can’t guarantee that your child will never get into an accident, but you can do all that you can to prepare them and then pray for their safety when they are driving on their own and things are out of your control.
Now that I survived teaching them to drive, I need to prepare myself to do it another 5 times and then I will officially be done my driver training duty!
If you are looking for other tips, you may be interested in following my Parenting board on Pinterest.