“I passed the driving exam! Now, all that’s left to do is learn to drive!” There are moments in raising children that will stop your heart. Recently, I’m finding many of these moments with my 15-year-old son behind the wheel. The pressure on both the new driver and the instructor is real. My son needs to learn a new skill, involving serious concentration, in an effort to keep the passengers in his car safe and comfortable. My husband and I need to instill all of the nuances of our driving experience in a way that shows that we have faith in our son (all while we are gripping the door handle with white knuckles and pumping invisible breaks). It’s enough to cause at least a little driving anxiety even in those with the strongest of stomachs.
How To Reduce Your (Student) Driving Anxiety
Do you remember learning to drive with your parents? It can be overwhelming. Illegal turns happen. There may be scrapes or dents. This picture is me at 16 years-old after I tore off the bumper of my parent’s car while attempting to back out of the garage. (I learned to ask for help when needed and to buy a car with backup cameras when they became available). Sharing your mistakes with your kids may help reduce their anxiety while reminding you that you were young once too!
2) Talk First & Plan To React
Talk with your teen about what to expect. Pick 3 of the most important rules of the road you want them to follow that will make it easier for you to be comfortable. For example, what’s most important to me is having a lot of distance between cars. My husband is particular about deliberately checking before changing lanes. Explaining to your child what’s important to you will reduce the likelihood of emotional blowups in the car among all involved.
3) Build Up To Challenging Drives
Consider what constitutes a “challenge” for driving and gradually build up to those road trip challenges. You may start with your teen in a large parking lot and move into a neighborhood before trying surface streets. It’s also important to think of the mental challenges that come with driving. A lot is going on when you are behind the wheel. Consider the complexity of highway driving, driving at night, or using roundabouts (many adults I treat with driver’s anxiety avoid these environments due to the added stresses).
Sit with your child and create a game plan (or road map!) of situational goals.
4) Outsource (some) Instruction
Most high schools offer “driver’s ed” and there are independently run driving schools as well. These programs give your child about 10 hours of direct experience behind the wheel with a professional. Many insurance companies offer a discount for successful program completion. This can go a long way in getting your teen primed for driving. But you’re still going to have to do some heavy lifting. Having your child complete a program early in their driving experience will help build their confidence and can put you in a position for continued skill-building.
5) Lead With Positivity
One thing I’ve heard over the years from new teen drivers is that their parents are quiet until a mistake is made, and then they “freak out.” This can squash confidence and kill the opportunity for bonding behind the wheel. Instead, spend time in the car pointing out what your child is doing right. Research shows it takes 6 positive pieces of feedback to balance 1 piece of criticism. The corrective feedback will still be necessary (they are learning after all), but a balance with positives will help them know what to do more of (and remind you that overall, they are making improvements).
“Leave sooner, drive slower, live longer.” author unknown
It’s getting easier with my son. He’s has a better grasp on what I like to see (mainly A LOT of distance between him and the car in front of him), and I will definitely rest better when he’s eventually on his own, knowing he’s logged a significant amount of time driving under my direction.