Teaching our kids to drive: do we dare?

Some love the idea of it, others couldn’t think of a fresher hell. Teaching our children to drive is one of those things that, on the surface, can seem very practical. If you are a safe driver yourself, there is nothing quite like passing on your skills to your child.

But, as anybody who has experienced homeschooling can attest, the idea of becoming a teacher in addition to being a parent, especially in a pressure cooker situation like behind the wheel, can result in more than its fair share of disagreements, or even accidents! But as the road is a more dangerous place, the guidance you can provide could tip the balance. What should you be aware of if you are teaching your child to drive?

GIVING THEM A GOOD CAR TO LEARN IN

You might think it’s easy enough just to let them get in your car, but if you are someone who is very particular about how the mirrors go, where the seat should be, and lord help them if they move it an inch or two away from your preferred spot, it can be frustrating for them. If they are learning to drive, you’ve got to be able to give them an open forum in which to express themselves and to learn in their own way.

Getting their own car that is their responsibility, that they will drive by themselves after they passed their test, instills in them the idea of what being a car owner really entails. You can help them buy their first car, rather than just buying one for them. It’s so easy for us to buy them a car, because we know what we’re looking for. But if they are to stand any chance of being self-sufficient while on the road, then it’s best to let them take the lead.

You can provide them with advice along the way, but if you are paying for the car, you need to save money as well. Giving them a used car checklist, can give them an idea of what to look for, but it’s important for you not to be overbearing in the process. Once they’ve got a car that feels right for them, but you know is safe and practical, you’re good to go.

FIND OUT WHAT KIND OF TEACHER YOU ARE

Because it’s about learning to drive, something you know a lot about. But the real skill in teaching anyone anything is about letting them make mistakes in a nurturing environment. When you’re out on the road, and they have control of the vehicle, in many ways, you are leaving them to the elements, so you have to gently guide them along.

This means that you’ve got to be careful with your words, but also realize that every little thing you do could stress them out. You could very well be a passive-aggressive sort of person, and one little tut or sigh can really cause tempers to flare. It’s all about being calm under pressure and allowing them to make mistakes. This is vital. Remember that when you learned how to drive, you didn’t get into the car knowing exactly how to do everything, did you? 

STRUCTURING THE LESSONS

It’s unlikely you will be doing all the teaching yourself; you may very well be working with an instructor. In which case, they have their own approach to teaching people how to drive. They may have a structure, or they may gauge according to the skill of the driver. It’s important that, if you are doing your child a favor by teaching them to drive to save money across the board, you have still got to work in tandem with the lessons. You have a distinct advantage because you know your child better than anybody, and therefore, understand their strengths and weaknesses.

You’ve got to focus on their weaknesses more, but this means you’ve got to find a way to build up their confidence behind the wheel. It’s not about plunging them into stressful situations, because this could be too much. Your child could very well decide not to learn with you anymore, and they have every right to do this. That means you’ve got to keep a lid on it, and make sure that there is a proper structure in place but allows your child to develop gradually.

If you are teaching your child all by yourself, going in with a plan is far better than winging it. One of the great benefits of teaching your child to drive is that you have unlimited hours. That means that you can gauge the situation better. Longer lessons have been shown to be more effective. If confidence is an issue, and you pay an instructor for an hour-long lesson, this can be too much. Building up their confidence bit-by-bit is far better.

Intensive lessons, teaching people how to drive over long days, lasting a couple of weeks, has become more popular, because it is that very nature on diving into to learn how to drive. But the great benefit that you have is that you can mix it accordingly. Giving your child longer lessons, perhaps driving all day, is a perfect way for them to gauge different types of traffic, and how they will react under pressure. But remember, safety is the most important thing. If your child is getting tired, or stressed, this doesn’t do anybody any favors and can set them back.

THE KEY POINT TO FOCUS ON

Safety is a priority for anybody at any stage during their driving life. Because our children will take cues from us in terms of driving skills, especially as they seem us driving for so many years, if we don’t have safe habits, how can we expect our children to be cautious and focus 100% of the time? Going over the Highway Code is a great way for you both to reacquaint yourselves with the rules of the road.

In addition to this, learning to be calm under pressure is beneficial for both of you. The easy thing to do would be to bark directions at your child to pull the handbrake up, put it into gear, and so on. When there’s a line of cars behind beeping, it’s a pressure unlike any other. Being relaxed behind the wheel is all about how you convey yourself, but it is also in the direction that you give. Be sure to give them plenty of time when telling them to turn left, or to change lane. Go on quieter roads at the very outset, and be sure to keep any personal issues outside of the car.

WHAT IF IT DOESN’T WORK OUT?

We can go in with the best of intentions to teach our child to drive, but if it becomes too personal or stressful, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it. You are still giving your child skills on how to conduct themselves on the road. Ultimately, they can go to an instructor and learn in their own way, but that doesn’t mean you should give up the ghost completely. Give it some time, and if they are still learning after a few months, which they likely will be, give them the opportunity to go out in your car. Insure them on your car, and this will go some way to show them that you trust in their abilities. 

As well as this, you can always help them prepare for the written portion of the test. Driving is one of those things that needs to be done a lot in order for it to be retained at the very beginning. If you can let them drive your car on shorter journeys, this goes a long way for them to gain that sense of independence. It will become second nature to them before they even go for their test. And this is when you know you’ve done well. 

ABOVE ALL ELSE, DO IT FOR THE RIGHT REASONS

One of the main reasons parents teach their children to drive now is to save money. You want your child to be on the road, and to have the skills behind them so they are set up for life. But if we don’t do it for the right reasons, we could set them back. The experience of learning to drive is a very stressful one. Taking their test is one of the most anxiety-inducing things they will ever undergo.

And if, at the back of their minds, all they can hear is your voice barking orders, this will do nothing for them to gain their own sense of resilience behind the wheel. The teacher-student relationship goes out the window when you are sat next to them. Sometimes this is why it is better for children to learn with an instructor. But if you feel that you are doing it for the right reasons, and you can give them something extra on it on top of what we would learn through an instructor, you can set them up with the skills for life.


Photo Credit: Tarutoa

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