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Every parent dreads that point in time when their child reaches driving age. While there are many driving schools available, it is still possible to teach your child to drive without doing permanent damage to yourself, your child and your car. Here are a few guidelines.

Before getting in the passenger seat, first, talk to your child about the fundamentals of driving. Believe it or not, some teens don't know the difference between the gas pedal and the brake pedal. It's a good idea to start teaching before your child gets his permit. By this I mean, when you are driving him to the mall, teach him the use of the rear view mirror, side view mirror and turn signals. When you're yielding onto a highway, explain the different between a yield sign and a stop sign. In essence, start teaching the basics before you allow your child to get behind the wheel.

Now that your child knows the difference between the windshield wiper and the turn signal it's time for the first lesson. Pick a day and time when you are both relaxed. The best time is early Sunday morning. Not only are you relaxed, traffic is usually very light. If its raining (or snowing), postpone the lesson. Although your teen will need to know how to drive in bad weather, the first lesson is not the time. It is also advisable to start the first lesson in a parking lot, preferably, one that is somewhat empty. Do not conduct the first lesson in the mall parking lot the week before Christmas, rather go to the school parking lot on a Sunday.

The most important element in teaching your child to drive is assuring him that you have the confidence in his ability. If you show you are nervous or don't trust him behind the wheel, it will shake his confidence. This is not to say that you won't be very, very nervous turning your car over to your teen, you just can't show how anxious you really are. It's okay to press your foot into the floor, but if you must, then keep it pressed from the time you sit in the passenger's seat until the lesson is over. Suddenly slamming an imaginary brake will only startle the young driver and could lead to needless whiplash or worse.

You are now in the parking lot and ready to switch places. Before allowing your son or daughter to put the key in the ignition, make sure you are both wearing your seatbelts. Securing the seatbelt should be the FIRST step in the driving process. Make sure this becomes as second nature to them as opening the car door. Once the car is started, turn the radio off. Music will be a distraction to the first time driver, as will food and drink, so make sure nothing is in the cup holder.

Even if the lot is empty, teach your child to drive as though it were full. Maintain a speed well under the limit; teach him to stop at the end of each lane (in the lot) even if there is no stop sign present; teach him to use his turn signal for each turn, again even if the lot is empty. At first, his driving will probably be very jerky -- accelerating too fast, stopping too fast. Do not shout, scream, or in any way panic. Remember that this child has absolutely no idea how to handle a car, so you must exercise extreme patience. At times this can be very difficult. The first lesson should only last 15 to 20 minutes, although you'll probably feel like it lasted 15 hours.

If possible, do not wait too long before the second lesson. Do it the next day, and repeat Lesson One. If you think your child can maintain control of the vehicle, exit the lot after 10 minutes and allow your child to proceed onto the road. Hopefully, you've been practicing in a lot that is not directly adjacent to a main thoroughfare. It is better to start your new driver on a less-traveled street where he won't be too nervous about driving. If, while driving in traffic, he is too close to the parked cars, makes his turns too wide or stops too suddenly, remember not to panic. As he is driving, tell him he is doing a good job; then suggest that next time he should ease into the stop. When he makes a mistake, make him aware of it but don't scream at him. As stated before, this will only shake his confidence and he will be back to square one. If you are both comfortable, allow him to drive around the neighborhood for 20 minutes or so and let him drive home. Remember to compliment him on his responsible driving and if his handling of the automobile needs improvement, point this out tactfully and work on it the next time out.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is allowing him to drive on the highway. You will know when he is ready so do not force him onto the Interstate if he is not yet comfortable behind the wheel. Once he is ready, be prepared to remain calm. This lesson will be more traumatic for you than your student. Make certain that he stays in the right lane so as not to interfere with high-speed left lane traffic. Many times the young driver will be very intimidated by the cars passing him. Assure him that the right lane is for slower traffic and there is no need to go over the speed limit.

If the Interstate lesson goes well, test time is almost here. Now that your child is comfortable behind the wheel, knows the basics of defensive driving and can handle himself amid traffic, only a few more lessons are necessary. Let him drive you to the mall or the grocery store; make these last few sessions appear more like actual trips than lessons.

It is a good idea to practice the actual driving course that is used for the testing before your child takes the test. The driving requirements vary from state to state; some states have a course while others perform an actual road test. Either way, make sure your child is comfortable with the course/test and practice on his weak points, i.e. parallel parking or "K" turns.

Accompany your child on "test" day. Be supportive and encouraging. Let him know that you have the utmost confidence in his driving ability. If he fails the test the first time, assure him that it's okay; shake it off and try again. If he passes, the most important point you must make is that although he is now a licensed driver, he is not an experienced driver, and he should never assume that he is invincible.

Once the lecture is over, get into the passenger seat and let him enjoy his accomplishment. While you may never truly relax being a passenger, take pleasure in your child's achievement and your role in his success!