Teaching Your Kids to Drive Before They Are Old Enough

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My boys are aged 14, 10, 9, and 7. None of them is of driving age. But, just as I anticipate a significant increase in my grocery bill and household milk consumption over the next ten years, so do I also realize that my blood pressure and patience may be put to the test as each one gets behind the wheel.

But, I’m trying to be a little proactive about that. At least the driving part. I don’t know how we’ll pay for groceries.

While I currently do not have any children actively in driver’s training, I am teaching them to drive even now. No, I’m not putting them behind the wheel. They only do that at amusement parks.

As we drive about town, we’re discussing the different aspects of driving, how to be defensive, how to be courteous of other drivers. In essence, we’re doing preliminary driver’s education. We talk about the rules of the road.

One of the most important things they’ll ever learn.

We don’t expect our children to grasp everything they need to know about college, dating, marriage, or business overnight. We talk for years about these things in anticipation of those stages when they move from child to adult and need to take on big responsibilities.

And quite honestly, driving, is in some ways, more dangerous than any of those life-altering decisions. When I think about it, though, many kids, myself included, probably don’t think about driving until about a year before they take the test. And even then, some don’t take it all that seriously. My husband still gloats that I only got an 82%.

Yet, we’re given permission to operate a lethal weapon at a very young age.

No, I’m not on a mission against kids driving. Learning to drive is a rite of passage and a stage toward independence.

Yet, learning to drive safely and defensively is probably one of the most important things we can teach our kids. Probably those who live in large cities like New York or Paris where mass transportation is the key mode of transport, have other things to worry about. But for many of us, handing our kids the keys when they’re sixteen is serious business.

Some things to model for or teach to our kids before they are old enough to drive:

1. Texting and messing with your phone is not okay while driving.

I pass far too many grown adults texting or talking on their phones while driving. In my state this is illegal, and the fine is stiff, but apparently, this isn’t enough of a deterrent. Their email signatures should read, “I put other lives at risk to send you this message.”

We can model to our kids good phone etiquette and safe driving by not talking or messing with our phones while we are behind the wheel. Don’t text and drive.

2. Keep cool under pressure.

The habits we develop — and the gestures we use, ahem — are learned in some ways. We can do our children a favor by modeling patience and good manners wherever we are.

3. Explain how to change lanes, signal a turn, or make other maneuvers.

Your kids can’t drive yet, but they can have certain guidelines instilled in their minds so that they know what to do before they get to practice it. Obviously, you’re not going to discourse with a 4-year old about when to change lanes, but he can know that red means stop, green means go, and understand what a blinking light indicates.

4. Drive well.

If your kids see you “cheat,” they will most likely do it, too. I’m not saying you have to be a saint. But, if you’re a bad driver, it doesn’t bode well for your kids.

Drive well, model good habits behind the wheel, don’t text while driving, and they will have a good idea of what “normal” should be.

6. Teach them what to do in an emergency.

Most of the time we prepare for emergencies that never happen, thank God. But, it’s important that we prepare. Teaching your teenager how to call for help, how to change a tire, or how to pump gas will be helpful down the road. Watching how you respond to emergencies will also equip them with the tools they need to deal well with the unforeseen when it happens.

My kids have ridden in more than tow truck in their lives. We call it “educational.”

What are YOU doing to prepare your kids to drive?

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  1. We live out in the rural country and our local town is small. Great for learning to drive but when you go to the “big town” or city, it takes them a little time to get used to, “holy cow I have lanes to choose from.”

    My brother (we grew up on a farm) when he went to get his driver’s license, the examiner asked him (after about a block of driving) how long he’s been driving…to which he told him that he started on his daddy’s knee, then progressed to driving the pickup following his daddy on the tractor barely able to reach the pedals and look over the steering wheel….so quite a while.

  2. I don’t know, I might have to talk about changing lanes with my five-year-old — because she would ask about it. She’s a total backseat driver who is also observing and asking questions. I guess this bodes well for her driving ability, in another decade or so.

  3. We are fortunate to live in the country and a town that is very agricultural. Almost every farm has a 4 wheeler and a tractor. Our daughters learned how to ride the 4 wheeler and drive a tractor just as soon as they were big enough. We also had a little 95 Honda at one point that they rode. They learned basic skills, but then had to learn rules of the road and etiquette. We started by letting them drive down to the mailbox ( I know, we’re rebels, go ahead and slap our hands) and then back roads when they got their permits. Regardless, our oldest was a natural, and our youngest was (still is) easily distracted and took much more work- and patience! Modeling good driving habits is a valuable tool for teaching our children.

  4. I’ve been teaching my 3-year-old about driving. She knows what the lights mean. I have pointed out people who have done something stupid or dangerous and said “That person is not a safe driver” and explained (briefly) why not. Sometimes I deliberately sit in a parked car and use my phone, and if she tells me to go, I will say “I have to finish checking my messages first, and then we will go” so she sees that is the right way. We talk about being careful, watching for other drivers, and so on. I tend to be a cautious driver (annoyingly so to my passengers at time!) and want to pass this along to them. At this time my daughter will even tell us if the gas light is on and say we need to go get gas! So she gets about as much as she can for her age, which I think is good.

    We don’t mess around with safety in the car, either. Everyone ALWAYS wears a seat belt (and will get a reminder from the children should anyone not get buckled up quickly enough). Children remain rear-facing until around age 3. They’ll stay in appropriate car seats until they reach the proper age/weight restrictions. This is not negotiable. They take safety seriously now, too!

  5. Oh, fun times. LOL
    One of the best things we did was insist that our boys had to pay their own insurance. They are a little more careful when it’s coming out of their pocket. 😉 Actually, they didn’t really want to get their licenses until 18 or so because they didn’t feel ready. So, it worked out well.

  6. My oldest turned 16 (driving age in my state) last year and I realized that we had failed him. He was terrified of being behind the wheel and had no idea what to do or how to operate the car. He wasn’t even sure how to get home from the Target, which is only a mile from our home. While this has been unfortunate for him, it has changed our approach with our two younger children. We now talk about driving with them, have them give us directions to familiar places, and have them take a role in car maintenance (the 13 year old loves to pump gas). Our family learned the hard way that’s it’s never too early for driver’s ed!

        1. @Jessica Fisher, A good way to check – is to drive down to the pumps, and look up on them and see where the warning labels are. If it’s a state thing, than it wouldn’t say it on the label! Most people aren’t even aware that there are warning labels on all gas pumps. Things like – no talking on your cell phone while pumping, do not climb back into your car while pumping gas (this is for fire reasons and you can REALLY start a fire at a gas pump due to static electricity! My husband, who works on pumps, has seen video of it happening!). Or turning off your car while you are pumping is another biggie that drives my husband nuts (and me, now knowing that you can start a fire while doing so!) Check Out the warning labels for your own safety AND to teach your kids!

    1. @Natalie Q., Timely as we prepare for this new experience with our kids. I have to say to Natalie, you didn’t fail your son. Boys brains mature in very different ways and on different “clocks.”

      Our son, like yours, is freaked out by some of the driving experience and has a poor sense of direction at this point in time (which causes him to freak out even more). It’s not just preparing him for the actual responsibility of driving, but also realizing that at 16 some kids, especially boys, simply aren’t ready for the stress and impulse control that driving a car brings.

      We’re putting our son’s driving experience on the back burner for awhile. He can drive with us; he’s taking an in-depth class; but until he lets us know that he is neurologically ready (ie, not freaked out), we’re keeping the keys.

      Don’t fret, Natalie. His brain will catch up to his body and he’ll be a great driver. It just might not be when he’s 16.

  7. Loved this post… I have done the same thing…we even go over crossing a solid line… how people “break the law” on the small stuff…cutting people off…. Great post!

  8. I do the same thing with my boys… ages, 13, 12, 11 and 8.. Great post… So important for kids to learn these things long before they actually start driving!