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Does your teen have a death grip on the wheel?

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

It’s perfectly normal for your teen to experience some anxiety around learning to drive and being on the road. If we’re being totally honest, you’re probably also feeling a little anxious about the thought of your teen behind the wheel!

Scared teen driver gripping the steering wheel and gasping

While anxiety is normal, it’s also something that should be addressed sooner rather than later. A common sign that you have an anxious driver on your hands is that they appear very tense and have a death grip on the steering wheel. If your teen is holding onto the steering wheel so tight that their knuckles are white, it’s a problem. It’s also a problem if you’ve got white knuckles from gripping your seat or passenger door handle!

Joking aside, my goal is to help you and your teen be as relaxed and confident as possible when learning to drive. A relaxed and confident driver is a safe driver. That’s our number one goal.

So what can you do if you have an anxious driver? Before you even get behind the wheel, I recommend practicing some simple breathing exercises that can help reduce anxiety. These techniques will be your go-to when anxiety hits while on the road.

Here are a few techniques, recommended by Healthline, to use when you’re feeling anxious:

Lengthen your exhale

Typically when we’re anxious, it’s easier to breathe too much which can result in hyperventilating. Before taking a big, deep breath, try a long exhale instead. Push all the air out of your lungs, then inhale. Try exhaling for longer than you inhale (for example, inhale for 4 counts, exhale for 6).

Practice belly breathing

In belly breathing your stomach will rise and fall with your breath, rather than your chest. Breathe in through your nose and let your stomach rise. Exhale through your mouth using your stomach muscles to push air out at the end of the breath. Practice this every day and soon belly breathing will be the way you automatically breathe.

Equal breathing

This is another good technique for if you’re feeling anxious or stressed. It simply means to focus on exhaling for the same amount of time that you inhale. Count 1-2-3-4 as you inhale through your nose. Exhale for the same four-second count.

It’s important to be able to recognize when your child is feeling anxious. You know your child better than anyone else. Watch them as they are driving, and if you notice signs of anxiety, take a break.

Pullover into a parking lot and practice one of the breathing techniques above. The more you practice these, the more second nature it will become. Soon, you won’t even need to pull over. Your teen will be able to notice when they are feeling anxious and use their breath to calm down while still driving.

These are great techniques for your teen drivers, but they are also good for you - the parent! Remember, a calm environment is the best environment for learning. If you are overly anxious, your teen will also pick up and may become even more anxious. You can use these techniques as well, to reduce your anxiety when you are in the car with your teen.


If you’d like more strategies and tips for coaching your teen driver, check out my free Parent’s Guide: 5 Solutions for Common Teen Driving Mistakes.

Learn more about The Parent’s Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers online course for parents who want to know how to better coach their teens how to drive!


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