Teach Your Kid to Drive

It’s finally happening: your teen is approaching the legal driving age in your area. You may be proud, frightened, or excited--or all these feelings at once! You can ease your mind by putting your best effort into helping your child prepare for the road. You’ll want to help them build their skills by slowly increasing the difficulty of your lessons, and set clear boundaries and privileges for once they get that coveted license.


Starting the First Lesson

  1. Make sure your teen has a learner's permit. Most states have specific requirements for a learner's permit: a driving student must have completed a certain amount of written driver's education, and (in some places) some hours at an accredited driving school as well.
    • In most places, a learner's permit allows its holder to practice driving during specific times of the day, and in the presence of an older licensed driver.
  2. Take a deep breath. It’s totally natural to be nervous about your child to drive. If you’re tense and snappy throughout the process, though, your teen will sense that, and it will not reflect well in their driving. Do your best to be kind and calm, especially if you’re naturally a nervous driver.[1]
    • Be aware of your body language as well as your words. If you sense yourself balling up your fists or tensing your shoulders, try to relax them.
    • Remember that your child has a learner's permit; they already know quite a bit about the mechanics and safety of driving. You don't have to recite the Driver's Ed textbook at them. You only need to help them practice.
  3. Locate a quiet parking lot. This is a classic for good reason. With plenty of space and no one to get in the way, a parking lot is a great setting for low-pressure lessons. Plan to have your first lesson together here on a clear, sunny day. Try to avoid doing this in the cold--ice has a way of making an easy lesson difficult.
  4. Narrate your driving. On your way to the parking lot for the first lesson, point out to your teen what you're doing, and why. Are you accelerating? Why are you stopping? Who has the right of way at this intersection?[2]
  5. Check that the parking lot is empty. Stop the car, remove the keys, then switch seats with your child. This may be their first time behind the wheel of a non-driver's-school car, so give them a moment to adjust.
  6. Start with straight lines. Encourage your child to start the car. Pick out a nearby marker (like a trash can or light post). Then tell them to drive in a straight line in the direction of the object, then stop. Next, have them try reversing a few feet.[3]
  7. Do some simple loops. Encourage your teen to circle slowly, both clockwise and counterclockwise. Then try making corners, instead of smooth circles.
    • Even though there's no one else in the parking lot, make sure your teen is using the turn signals.
    • Be careful not to do “doughnuts” (tight, skidding loops): they are dangerous, and you and your teen could get in trouble.[4]
  8. Keep the first lesson short. Driving can be stressful, and a long lesson will wear on both of you. Try to cap your time at fifteen or twenty minutes--you can always come back to practice later in the week.[3]

Practicing in Parking Lots

  1. Always practice in the same car. Whether your teen is learning to drive a stick shift or automatic car, it’s important that they get the hang of driving one specific car. This way, there will be no surprises the day of the test.[1]
  2. Build up to longer, trickier lessons. Return to the parking lot for a few more sessions. This will help your teen's confidence and skills grow before they surrender to the call of the open road. You can practice for up to an hour if you're so inclined. Make sure to take a break or cut the lesson short if one of you needs it.
  3. Ask your child to park perpendicularly. A parking lot has the advantage of pre-marked parking spaces, so take advantage of them!
    • Tell your teen to pull up to line their passenger side mirror up with the boundary line of a space.
    • Then, have them turn their wheel all the way to the side, and begin to enter the space. Once they're about halfway in, they can straighten the wheel and finish pulling in.[5]
  4. Practice K turns. Also called 3-point turns, K turns are useful for reversing directions in areas of heavy traffic. They're also tricky to get right, which is why it's great to do them in an empty parking lot.
    • Tell your teen to signal right, then pull all the way right.
    • Next, encourage them to turn on their left-hand signal, then drive left a bit.
    • Now tell them to signal right, then reverse. They should be near where they started, but facing the opposite direction.[6]
  5. Instruct your child to parallel park. You can use the curbs in the parking lot to practice parallel parking, even if that isn't their intended function. This maneuver can require a lot of repetition, so don't let it psych your teen (or you) out.
    • Tell your teen to come to a stop, then check their mirrors. Have them turn on their turn signal on the right. Then encourage them to turn the steering wheel all the way to the right, towards the curb.
    • Now, they should begin to reverse. Remind them going extremely slowly is okay, and encouraged--even experienced drivers find parallel parking difficult.
    • Then, have them switch the wheel to the left and back up a bit more.
    • Finally, your teen should straighten out their wheels completely and inch forward a bit. [7]
    • Get out of the car and look at how close the curb is. If it's nearly touching the wheels, or a couple of feet away from them, have your teen try again!
  6. Offer constructive criticism. Your teen may not be a perfect driver yet, but that's why they're practicing with you. You may need to correct them, but make sure your comments are useful and constructive (e.g. “Pump the breaks,” not “slow down, we’re going to die!”).[3]
  7. Praise good driving. It's easy to figure out where to correct (it will often happen when your teen doesn't seem to be paying attention), but we often take good driving for granted and forget to reinforce it. Here are some actions worthy of praise:
    • Correcting a mistake without being prompted.
    • Considering right of way.
    • Taking weather or light conditions into account.

Driving on the Road

  1. Start on easy roads. Bringing other drivers into the mix may be a stressor for both of you, but if you and your teen have been practicing in a parking lot, you will be well-prepared. However, more people on the road means more things to be aware of.
    • Review right of way laws with your teen. These may vary depending on where you live.
    • Now more than ever, emphasize that signaling is important.
  2. Try city driving. After your teen has the hang of driving on fairly quiet roads, take them to a busier location to handle more drivers. If possible, practice in a place your teen is already familiar with.
    • Remind your teen that city driving requires not only patience for a lot of starting and stopping, but heightened awareness for pedestrians.
    • Plan a route through the city with your teen in advance. This will be less stressful than being surprised by an "obstacle course."[8]
  3. Drive on the highway. Highway driving is really fast, so it might feel intimidating for your child. The good news is that it's usually a straight shot and there are no pedestrians or bikers to worry about.
    • Acceleration and deceleration lanes can be stressful. Emphasize the importance of smoothly increasing and decreasing speed.
    • Remind your teen that cars on the highway should be more widely spaced than they should be on a regular street. Tell them to try the three-second rule: start counting when the car in front of them passes a certain landmark (like a road sign). They should pass the sign three seconds after the car in front of them. [9]
  4. Become familiar with extreme conditions. Once your teen feels safe driving in different situations, take them out to drive in rain, snow, and the dark.
    • In many places, drivers are obligated to turn on their headlights if there is rain heavy enough to necessitate windshield wipers. Even if this isn't legally required in your area, it's good sense.[9]
    • Rain, ice, and snow can cause skidding. Make sure your teen knows to turn the wheel in the direction of a skid, no matter how counterintuitive this may sound![8]
  5. Practice as often as you can. Several times a week is ideal. Driving depends partly on muscle memory, like playing a sport.[10] Even if your teen has been performing splendidly while you drive together, they have to keep reinforcing what they’ve learned until it sticks.
  6. Before your teen gets their license, discuss driving rules. Safety concerns are important, but as they prepare to take the test, family boundaries are too. If all goes well, you’ll have another licensed driver in the house soon; it’s important to figure out how what areas your teen can be independent in, and which areas still need guidance.[11]
    • How will car-sharing work? Do you plan to buy your child a new car? Will you share the family car?
    • Will your teen have a curfew if they’re out driving? (Note: in many states, drivers with provisional licenses already have a curfew in place.)
    • Will you limit the number of friends in the car?
    • Are there certain places your teen will not be permitted to drive?
    • Consider making a written contract for your family’s specific rules. There are templates available online. Here's one from the Car Talk hosts.


  • Remain patient and calm. Yelling or panicking will not help either you or your child.
  • If there are people in the parking lot, wait, find another place or go back later!
  • Be a good role model: make sure you’re following traffic laws, and never drive while you're intoxicated!
  • Glance over the written materials your teen has received from Driver’s Ed. It’s never a bad idea to brush up on local traffic laws, especially if you’re teaching your child in a different place than you learned.


  • Don't drive unless your child has a learner’s permit.

Things You'll Need

  • A Car
  • A Kid with a Learner’s Permit
  • An Empty Parking Lot
  • You and Your Driver’s License
  • Appropriate Identification
  • Access to local traffic laws

Related Articles

Sources and Citations