Teaching Your Kids to Drive – and Other Skills

Got a student driver in the house? Or one that’s a few years away?

For kids, that first driving lesson with Dad is like a rite of passage. For dads, it’s like a trip to the dentist, only the dental chair is on a roller-coaster. Okay, it’s not that bad, but sometimes that’s how it feels.

And dads, we don’t always handle those situations the best. Our child is nervous, we’re nervous, and we’re both very aware that life, limb and thousands of dollars hang in the balance. And too often, if we aren’t careful, this big moment in a child’s life can become a big conflict. Sometimes dads get so intense that the child gives up, pulls over and says, “You drive home.” So what began as an opportunity to teach a skill becomes a drama-filled day that could change the course of your relationship.

Here are 7 tips for dads—and the focus here is on teaching a teenager to drive, but these can easily be adapted to many other teaching opportunities with your child. And it’s only appropriate that several of these tips focus on relationship skills, because any misstep will only be magnified in a tense situation behind the wheel.

1. Be patient.

Most of us have been driving for 20 or 30 years. We’ve been through thousands of different situations, we anticipate what’s coming, and we do most of it without even really thinking about what we’re doing. But with our kids, it’s all new and strange. They’re worried about just keeping the car between the lines and not hitting curbs. Fifty miles per hour probably feels like eighty would feel to us. Merging into a freeway is terrifying, and driving in reverse has to be like learning Swahili. So, we shouldn’t expect them to instantly master things we’ve been doing for decades.

2. Watch your tone of voice.

Sometimes your new driver gets in a situation where you need to intervene quickly. So your instructions get a little louder and faster, and maybe you even grab the wheel to get the car back on course. But understand that, to your child, your urgency probably sounds like anger or frustration. And honestly, there probably is some frustration there, too. So be very conscious of your tone and volume, and do all you can to turn them down a notch or two.

3. Don’t push it.

Different kids are ready at different ages. Wait until he’s interested and you feel sure he’s ready. And then, once you start, try short sessions of 15 or 20 minutes as he gets used to it. Or, if one session turns into a negative experience, wait until he brings it up again for the next time. Have him pull over frequently so you can do a lot of your instruction when the car isn’t moving. And consider working on just one still each time you go.

4. Be an encourager.

Since your urgency can easily come across as anger, be intentional about moving things the other way. Try even harder than usual to look for and point out positives you see. Give lots of praise, and be specific.

5. Plan ahead and teach anticipation.

Driving invovles a pretty complex set of skills, so think and talk in advance about different situations—like 90-degree parking, changing lanes, going in reverse, dealing with intersections, driving in rain or snow, parallel parking, freeway driving, and so on. Give your child the benefit of hearing you “think out loud”: “Okay, we’re turning left in another block. What do we need to do now?” Or, “See how the cars up ahead are stopping pretty fast?”

6. Try teaching by asking questions.

If you ask, “What’s the speed limit here?” that will likely go over much better than, “Hey, you’re speeding!” Another great question, “What would you do if …?” can help you talk about emergencies and unusual circumstances.

7. Be a good model.

This one applies to many areas of fathering. When you drive, are you tailgating slow cars, complaining about other drivers, and speeding up through blushing yellow lights? Make sure you’re driving the way you want your child to drive, so your actions and words are sending a consistent message. Many of you veteran dads have been through this.

What driver-teaching tips would you add? Help other dads by sharing your insights on our Facebook page.

Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  • What driving challenges and mishaps did you have when you were learning—or even later in life? Share a story or two with your child … and the lesson you learned from it.
  • Ask your kids what they have heard at school regarding driving drunk or high.
  • When you’re going somewhere with a child and there’s a good chance she’ll be nervous or less-than-thrilled with the time together, include a stop for ice cream, coffee, or something else you know she will enjoy.
  • How would you rate yourself at encouraging your kids? Start being more intentional about finding reasons to affirm them.
  • Pray together for safety and good attitudes as you set off on your driving adventure.

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There may be no more important work than turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and that’s what this is all about. We’re seeking to repair, rebuild and restore effective fathering for the benefit of children and families everywhere.