Hello Rene,

Love the site and all your terrific advice!

My daughter is 19 years old and can’t seem to pass her driving test!

Rachel’s failed 5 times now and each time she has the same problem – she gets totally nervous and stressed out the day of the test and makes silly mistakes.

Rachel is a good driver generally but she’s now so paranoid and scared that she doesn’t want to take the test again. I know how important it is to be able to drive and am trying to convince her to keep trying. I also don’t want her to give up as it sets a bad example for the rest of her life.

What can I do or say to get her back behind the wheel? And how can I calm her nerves so she can finally pass?

I’d appreciate any advice you might be able to offer….


Nicole, Chicago

Hey Nicole:

Thanks for the nice words; glad you like the site. Before we talk strategy, we need to understand how powerful the tapes are that we play for ourselves in our head. I’m talking about those messages that then become self-fulfilling prophecies. I think if you can help Rachel tame those, the battle is nearly won; the question is how do you get there.

Back when I was in TV news, if there was an unfamiliar name in a script, I would go over it again and again, making sure it would just roll off my tongue at the appropriate time. But on air, I would be so nervous and in the stories leading up to it, I would already be thinking about how I was going to SCREW IT UP! Well you can guess what happened. Not only was I not present in the previous stories, by the time I got to the read with the foreign name I would butcher it! Then it would be downhill from there as I kicked copy through the rest of the stories. And you know where it all started? Right there, in my head. Okay, so here’s my advice for Rachel (and you).

NO MORE TEST TAKING: I don’t care if she has to ride the bus, hitch a lift with friends or pedal her bike to where she’s going, I recommend she not take the driver’s test for a while. Rachel is battle scarred and needs to heal, literally. Sit her down, tell her everyone is going to back WAY off and you’re not even going to think about the test right now. I would make sure she understood that she was in the driver’s seat (no pun intended) with regard to when she decides she’s ready to take it again. In the meantime, you don’t mention another word about it.

DESENSITIZATION: We know the mind-body connection is a powerful one so when the mind starts running off to that bad place, it takes the body with it. We sweat, our breathing becomes short and shallow along with other physiological changes that make it harder to think clearly. One of the tricks I learned while in school studying psychology was a strategy called desensitization. See there are cues in certain settings that make you nervous, in Rachel’s case it could be sitting in the driver’s seat, driving to the Department of Motor Vehicles, filling out the paperwork and so on. The idea is that you would do “dry-runs” in those areas so that she could familiarize herself with those situations. The more she is exposed to the ‘stimulus” (the thing that makes her nervous) the more desensitized she becomes to it. The hope is that she’s eventually able to take the test because she knows what to expect and how to tame those feelings.

SUPPORT HER: I saved the biggest for last. You have to support Rachel in whatever she decides to do and when she decides to do it. She may not be ready to take the driver’s test for another four years. If that’s the case, so be it, she can figure out how to get around without a license. But added pressure from you in the form of urging or “encouragement” won’t help and each time she fails, it shakes her already tattered confidence even more. Tell her it doesn’t matter to you one way or the other whether she passes the test… and MEAN it!

The one caveat I would say here is that if you feel like these simple things are not working, it might be time to take Rachel to a therapist who could help her with some behavior modification or another approach if necessary.

I do think that sometimes as parents we go to that very dark place very fast as you have done in your worry about whether Rachel is going to be a life-long quitter as a result of this one hiccup. Okay, WHOA! Slow down, pour a glass of wine and practice some deep breathing exercises. And while you’re sitting on your porch decompressing, remember this; Rachel is 19, an adult. Let her live her life. If there’s a driver’s license in her future great. If not, well that’s fine too. But she’ll always need her mother to love, support and accept her whether she’s a walker or a driver.

Good luck mommy!

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