Summertime marks the season when we spend some quality time with our kids. If the gas prices don’t become any more outrageous than they already are, perhaps a road trip or two are in the plans to visit people or places. Road trips are great opportunities for families to connect because of being confined in a single space for a significant period of time. Fortunately or maybe unfortunately, the technology in vehicles provides entertainment, be it music or movies, therefore, putting less pressure on parents to “entertain” the kids while driving. The unfortunate part of this is instead of using the time to really communicate with one another, kids are watching movies and parents are listening to music and no one is talking to each other.
These road trips are also a GREAT time to begin the process of teaching our kids safety behind the wheel. No matter how old your children are, it is never too early to help them begin to understand the rules of the road and safety in a vehicle. It is an opportunity to help them begin to develop their ability to scan the environment by having them watch with you and point out potential hazards as you are driving. You can teach them what different signs and road markings mean and how important it is to stay focused on driving.
Now is the time to also be very conscious about your own behavior behind the wheel. Things to keep in mind include: What do you do when someone upsets you? Do you call them nasty names and find ways to “let them know about your displeasure”? What message do you send your kids when you do this? The better response would be to point out what happened to your kids and help them understand “not everyone is going to follow the rules” so it is important to watch out for others and make the necessary corrections to keep from getting into a crash. What do you do if you get lost? Do you get agitated and start yelling at your navigator or the GPS? Wouldn’t it be better to pull off the road, regroup, and figure out where you are and what you need to do to get back on track? Are you on a cell phone and talking or texting with your children in the vehicle? If so, consider very carefully the message you are sending your children and think about the consequences of that behavior once they are behind the wheel (also think about the consequences of you doing this, if something unexpected occurs).
There is no better time or place to start teaching your children about safety behind the wheel than when you are in the vehicle together. It is not a high-pressure situation, you can make it fun, especially for the younger ones, and it is a wonderful opportunity for you to use the time together to help them begin to develop skills that can keep them safe once they are ready to drive. You may be thinking, “I don’t even want to “think” about when my kid is going to drive.” Unfortunately, the reality is they grow up fast and they are learning from you every step of the way. The BEST way to prepare them for the time when they do drive is to develop a sense of smart, safe behaviors early. Once they turn 15 or 16 you would be surprised by how much of what they do behind the wheel is shaped by what they’ve watched you do for years. It never ceases to amaze me how a young person who has never been behind the wheel of a car already has specific habits because of what they’ve observed over the years.