Aaron Widmar
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Ways to Prepare Your Child to Drive Before They Have a Learner’s Permit

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young child boy in driver's seat of car learning to drive
Your child is never too young to start acclimating to basic automotive concepts
Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay (content license)

Learning to drive can be an exciting yet scary occasion for teenagers — and their parents. You want to give your young learner the best experience and aptitude when mastering driving. To give them the best chance of success, you should begin acclimating them well before they get their official learner’s permit. Here are some ways to prepare your child to drive right now.

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Start acclimating them at an early age

Many states and driving schools require that teenagers have performed some on-road driving before they get their learner’s permit or enroll in certified instruction classes. So, it’s important that parents begin introducing their kids to the basics of driving at an early age.

The more time they spend in the driver’s seat, the more comfortable they’ll feel there when they begin learning to operate the vehicle. You don’t want their first time in the driver’s seat to be when they roll out onto Main Street!

Let them sit in the driver’s seat

Park in the driveway, keep the engine off, and simply let your child sit in the driver’s seat. Don’t worry about teaching them anything yet; simply let them absorb the feeling and vantage point that being in the driver’s seat gives them. Let them explore the controls as they wish, adjust the seat, press the pedals, etc. Let them explore at their own pace just to feel unpressured — as long as they don’t start the engine!

Show them the controls

Once they’ve spent multiple sessions exploring the driver’s seat exploring, you can start directing them to important items. Point out the most basic, essential parts that they should know — like the seatbelt, the pedals, the PRNDL shifter, the headlights, the dashboard gauges, and the mirrors. Explain where to locate them, what they do, and how to operate them.

Quiz them on the controls

Start quizzing them on scenarios that test their basic vehicle operation knowledge. What would they do if they wanted to put the car in reverse? What should they do when changing to a left-hand lane (make sure they check their blind spot!)? Brush them up on any weak areas where they need more explanations.

Have them watch you drive as you narrate

Now that they know the terminology and basic practices, your child can see them in action as you use them around the neighborhood. Every time you do something behind the wheel, explain what you’re doing and why. Also use this opportunity to quiz them some more.

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Have them watch videos that depict

YouTube is filled with useful videos for learners of all ages that teach important concepts for driving a car. These are excellent supplements to hands-on acclimation because they show point-of-view for encountering intersections, going through roundabouts, and other real-world situations. There are also excellent free curricula online that parents can use, like the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Teen Driving Plan Practice Guide.

Let them turn on the engine

This is exactly what it sounds like: Let them know how to properly start the car and get the motor running. Show them how the dashboard shows the RPMs, the gas level, the current gear, etc. Then have them turn the engine off.

Practice in a parking lot

Let them drive around the parking lot by having them perform increasingly challenging tasks, beginning with the simplest undertakings like driving in a straight line and braking. Then, progress to practicing turns, parking in an empty space, and maneuvering around obstacles (like lampposts). Focus on one technique at a time until they master it, and avoid giving them conflicting information by switching instructors or vehicles.

Go out in bad weather

Don’t limit your parking lot sessions to only good weather; bad weather outings are important too! Let your child know what it looks and feels like when you’re driving in heavy rain, on icy pavement, and at night.

Have them read the vehicle owner’s manual

Yes, your young adult can learn a lot from simply reading about a car! This booklet in the glovebox is packed with information that a lot of adults take for granted. Have them take notes, ask you questions, bookmark important pages, and summarize each page. Heck, you could read through the manual with them if you never read it for yourself!

As manipulating the essential controls becomes second nature to your child, heading onto the highway and busy city intersections will become far easier as they already have the muscle memory for proper driving. Introducing these techniques early in your teenager’s driving education will better prepare them for mastering their temporary permit phase. Don’t wait until the last minute to start them on the path to driving.