Fruit flies like a banana.
Somehow, I’ve blinked and missed 17 years. My eldest is now learning to drive. It really doesn’t seem very long since she was learning to walk, learning to talk (although, to be honest, much of the talking-and-using-words stuff has kinda gone out of the window these last few teenage years). And on Friday, we put her in a car that cost less than my last phone and let her loose on the open roads of Lincolnshire.
Well, not quite. A quiet back-lane with next-to-no traffic, not a lot in the way of corners, and lots of convenient passing places for anyone who needs to get out of the way.
A long time ago – and this is where memory gets vague. How can it be “a long time ago” and yet also “last week”? – we taught her to ride a bike. It involved much shouting and anger on our part – how can you not do this yet? Why aren’t you pedalling? – and equal amounts on her part. Teaching all of my kids to ride bikes has been a thoroughly unpleasant experience. It seems to me that they’ll reach a point where their brain goes “ding! Bike riding installed” and they just go, and until that point it doesn’t matter how much you offer in encouragement, bribery, or other, less positive, emotions, they’re just not going to do it.
So I was dreading going out in the car with her. My own father only ever took me out once, pretty early on in my learning journey. He didn’t rush to do it again.
I’ve produced, with the help of my wife, this handy checklist for when you take a kid on the road for the first time.
Set expectations to “none” or “very low”.
This is a completely new skill for them. Even a lifetime spent playing PlayStation driving games won’t prepare you for this. Think of how much there is to concentrate on – accelerator-clutch balance, not using your left foot on the brake, mirrors, other mirrors, steering wheel, what do these levers do? Why am I veering left when I change gear? Aaargh! If, by the end of the first short session, they’ve started the car and driven it in a straight line without hitting anything/one, consider that a massive win and drive them home. They’re not going to be cruising the A1 in 5th gear in their first driving lesson. I hope!
Keep it short
15, 20 minutes. Not a lot. It’s a lot to take in and the little-and-often approach will bear more fruit than taking them out for a couple of hours. Let them come back to it fresh the next day and they (and you) will be amazed at how much better they are second time around.
One piece at a time
Back to riding a bike. Pretty much the hardest thing you’ve got to do is setting off. Getting the pedalling going, not wobbling and crashing, getting up to speed. Same with driving a car. You’ve got to get the accelerator-clutch balance right, keep the steering wheel straight, take off the handbrake… It’s a lot to do, so do it a lot. Get them to the point where it’s second nature. So, we were doing start, drive a little, stop, switch off. And repeat. Didn’t even get out of first gear for a while.
It’s more frustrating for them
You know you’ll get there, but the first time you stall – and the second, third, fourth… – it starts to get to you. You get cross, frustrated, angry – with yourself more than anything. So as the one who knows how to drive, you need your bestest calm, soothing, words to let the learner know we’ve all been there, we’ve all done this, and they will get the hang of it. This all goes double when they’d got the hang of doing this only yesterday.
The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had it right. Don’t panic. Absolutely the worst thing you can do is lose your cool – it will be transmitted straight into their brain and override everything else. Why is my parent panicking? What am I doing wrong? You stress, they stress. Keep it cool until you get back, then that large whiskey’s yours for the downing.
With 5 kids, we do things in decades. We’re well into the decade of GCSEs at the moment, a year or so into the decade of A-levels, approaching the decade of starting University. So I’ve got 10 years of teaching kids how to drive, on an off. If I didn’t have grey hair already, I would be the end of this.
Do you have any tips for taking the newly-minted learner-driver on the highways? Share them in the comments below…