How to stay zen. It’s not easy.
It’s a rite of passage for parents the world over – teaching your teen to drive. But it can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially when you’re in the passenger seat and your new driver takes those first few shaky steps onto the open road. What’s the secret to staying zen while teaching your teen to drive? Someone, please tell me. I’m terrified!
For many parents, teaching their teen to drive is one of the most stressful things they will ever do. It can be hard to stay calm and keep a cool head when your new driver is making mistakes. Especially when those mistakes mean running a stop sign, or jamming on the gas instead of the brakes when learning to reverse. Again, terrifying!
Mistakes are part of the learning process. I get that. But when they’ are making mistakes while you are both strapped into two tonnes of steel travelling at 60 – 80 km/hour, well it’s absolutely, freaking terrifying!
My son turned 16 in February. We showed up at the DMV bright and early, before it opened on the morning of his birthday. Nervously we waited for him to be given his written test and then again while waiting for the results. He passed his G1! With flying colors!
We were both so excited! Although he quickly confided in me that he was also scared. Having had my driver’s license for 34 years, I don’t remember feeling scared about learning to drive. I only remember the excitement I felt about the freedom having my license would bring.
Then I really started thinking about what having a teen with a G1 meant. My 16 year old who doesn’t know how to operate the washing machine was going to be operating an even bigger machine. A faster machine. A more deadly machine.
And although he was signed up for Young Drivers and would be taking driving lessons from a certified driving instructor, there were going to be many hours that my husband and I were going to be locked into a moving vehicle with him behind the wheel. This realization put me in a bit of a panic. And we hadn’t even started driving yet.
Calm? Are you kidding me?
So, how in the world am I supposed to remain calm while teaching him to drive? I know from experience, if I’m not calm, he’s sure as hell not going to be. I’ve decided to approach his driver’s education with a zen that has never been seen before in my family. Which is actually difficult for me because I’m in perimenopause. Anxiety, high emotions and rage are a daily occurances.
But so far, so good. I’ve been learning as I go and think I’ve come up with some pretty good tips for staying zen while teaching your teen to drive.
But you might still want to hang on tight. Even with these great tips, the ride could get bumpy.
Get back to the basics
Before your new driver turns on the car, it’s really important to take a tour of the vehicle. Get them familiar with this incredibly powerful and totally foreign machine. In the driveway or an empty parking lot, take a few minutes to:
- Adjust the seats, mirrors and steering wheel
- Familiarize them with the dashboard controls (including warning lights for fuel, oil and temperature)
- Show them where to turn on their headlights and hazards
- Show them the difference between their left and right signals and their windshield wipers
- Discuss safety features like air bags and seat belts
- Familiarize them with the parking brake/release
- Show how to start/turn off the engine
- Make sure they know the difference between the gas and brake pedals
- Show them where the registration, car insurance and car manual are located.
Once they’re ready, always plan to start your driving lessons on quiet streets or in an empty parking lot. Somewhere there aren’t a lot of other drivers or parked vehicles to bump into.
Relinquish Control. You’re no longer in the driver’s seat.
This is a big one that I definitely struggle with. Usually, I proudly sport my Control Freak badge with pride. But I have quickly learned that when my son is behind the wheel, I need to put down my badge and relinquish (almost all) control to him. Ultimately, he’s the one with his foot on the gas, so there’s really not much I can do.
As the parent of a learner driver, we’re there to help them not only develop their driving skills, but also to increase their confidence and feeling of control. I know from experience, that when my son feels more confident, he’s more relaxed. And ultimately, a relaxed teen is going to drive more confidently. Now that’s the making of a positive loop (for a change).
It might help their confidence to map out the drive with your teen before hand, and talk through some of the tricky bits before they put their foot on the gas. I’ve found that my son is more open to advice before we leave the driveway then when we’re on the road.
When you do need to offer advice along the drive (and you definitely will, many, many times) try to plan ahead. Take routes that you know well so that you know what’s coming and can offer advice or strategies well before you get to a busy intersection, traffic light or the hidden driveway. I find our drives so much more relaxing when I can calmly give my son advance warning of trouble ahead.
Pay attention for them
Remember that your student driver is learning a lot of things, really quickly. Everything is new to them. There’s a ton to think about, and they don’t have any muscle memory for driving yet. So making a simple left hand turn on an empty road has their minds racing though what feels like hundreds of steps and can actually feel really overwhelming.
As their driving instructor, we need to anticipate our teen’s actions. When we’re out driving, we need to decide well in advance what they should do when they reach upcoming situations.
When see a cross walk up ahead, check if their foot is over the brake. Are thinking about stopping? When turning left at a traffic light, they’re focused on their turn signals and figuring out what lane they need to turn into. They probably haven’t noticed the car that’s coming towards the intersection.
Instead of waiting for them to make a mistake (especially if there’s other traffic around) you can calmly send a few verbal cues their way to help guide them in the right direction.
One and done.
I have this really bad habit of driving home my points. To make sure my son fully understands what I’m trying to say, I have a tendency to repeat myself. I need to make sure he’s picking up every nugget in my brilliant life lessons.
When he’s behind the steering wheel, however, I have learned that one and done is the best way to administer advice. I guess the truth is, who wants to listen to “You need to turn your head more when checking blind spots!” on repeat? But he’s not great at checking his blind spots! At some point my remarks simply become distractions. I’m slowly learning to keep my mouth shut.
Hide your fear
When I’m feeling stressed out during a driving lesson, I try to clench my fists low on the seat so that my son can’t see them. I know this will cause him to stress out. I try to always keep my voice as calm and neutral as possible. And I try really hard not to use my ‘stern’ voice, because he hates it and it triggers him. Which leads to my next tip (that I learned the hard way)…
Avoid triggering your teen.
My son doesn’t like to be corrected by me. He’s never been great with feedback from mom. And unfortunately he’s not the kid to shut down when angry. Instead, like me, he gets loud and fierce and volatile. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a lovely, thoughtful, kind, empathetic kid. He just comes from a long line of fiery tempers.
So during our driving lessons, I really, really try to keep my voice calm and my feedback positive. I’ve learned the hard way, that if my stern voice escalates beyond stern (but seriously, sometimes you need to yell STOP!), that it triggers him. And when that happens, his tendency is to forget the break pedal and lay on the gas instead.
The adrenaline rush from stress and nerves is overpowering in these moments, especially if there is oncoming traffic or they miss a red light. We had to pull over to the side of the road once to have a screaming match because he almost missed a stop sign. Then I had to calm myself before calming him down so that we could proceed. It just wasn’t a good scene.
If you know there are things you do that will trigger you teen, just avoid them when your student driver is behind the wheel.
Lead by example
Think about the stress, even rage (I’m perimenopausal after all) that you feel when other drivers cut you off or are driving below the speed limit when you really need to pee. It can be really hard to to go into full out road rage sometimes.
And yet, we need to be aware that now that our teens are learning to drive, they are paying attention to what we’re doing while we’re driving the car. We are their driving instructor, even when we’re not thinking about it.
We need to always be a good example for our new drivers. Teach them that distracted driving is never tolerated. Don’t ever pick up your phone to reply to a quick text or change your playlist, if you don’t want your new driver to do it.
Monkey see. Monkey do. Without realizing it, your bad habits can quickly become their bad habits.
Demonstrate why it’s important to always remain calm, respect other drivers, drive safely and follow driving laws, no matter what the situation. No matter how badly their menopausal mama needs to pee.
Celebrate small victories
Teaching your teen to to drive can be a harrowing experience. It can help your student driver build confidence if you take a minute at the end of your driving lesson to focus on the positive. I don’t recommend you jump out of the car and kiss the driveway as a show of gratitude for making it home alive.
But at the end of every session, my son and I take a minute to celebrate small victories. Like if I make it through a car lesson without dropping the F bomb. Or he makes it through without side swiping our neighbours parked car. Or without losing his mind on me. You know, the small stuff.
It’s also important that when your student driver makes a safe mistake to congratulate them and use it as an opportunity to demonstrate proper technique or maneuver. Through the little bumps and fender benders of learning, it’s helpful to have a sense of humour and focus on the small wins.
Next stop: G2 driver’s license
The reality of teaching your teen to drive is that it’s going to require patience and a lot of practice, but don’t let that overwhelm you. It’s estimated that it takes a person about 4,000 hours of doing something to become fully competent in any given subject or skill – including driving.
That’s why your occasional sighs and tears of frustration, both yours and your teen’s, are all part and parcel of honing a new skill. Rather than getting worked up about a potentially bad driving lesson, take a step back and recognize that your teen is doing their best with mastering this tricky task.
Reassuring them that you have faith in their abilities will go a long way towards building your teen’s confidence behind the wheel, and giving them the foundations they need to navigate the open road with ease come time for their G2 driving test.
If I can stay zen while teaching my son to drive, anyone can!