Nurturing Your Child’s Sparks

Kelly Curtis - Professional speaker, writer and counselor*** Monthly Feature Column ***

Positively Speaking
Building Assets in your Kids

by Kelly Curtis, M.S., author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things.

(Book giveaway guidelines at the end of article.)

Can you identify what sparks interest in your child? Do you know what activity “lights him up?” In the teenage years, sparks are often related to creative arts, athletics and academics. As children, the interests may be simple, but the passion can last for years. My son started collecting agates at about age five, and his rockhound ways are still going strong.

Peter Benson’s inspiring book, Sparks: How Parents Can Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers explains ways to nurture sparks in young people. A survey shared in the book described the percentage of kids who say their parents nurture their spark.

• 91% of 10-12 year olds
• 67% of 13-15-year olds
• 47% of 16-18 year olds

It seems we consistently nurture preteen sparks, but fade away as they get older. Some of this decline is probably due to the fact kids reach out to other sources of encouragement as they get older. But this is an alarming statistic, if we haven’t help our kids to cultivate other adult spark champions in their lives.

Search Institute has identified Other adult relationships and Sense of purpose as two of the 40 Developmental Assets. Research shows these are characteristics of healthy, caring, resilient kids. The more assets youth have, the more likely they’ll resist risky behaviors in the future.


Simple, open-ended questions in normal conversation encourage kids to recognize the things in life that inspire them. For my son, this was simply the act of listening to him while he showed us the ten incredible rocks he just found on the shoreline.

Try this:

• “Tell me more about that.”
• “I’ve never heard of that – how does it work?” or
• “Where did you learn about it? Where could we learn more?”

Paving the way for what sparks your child’s interest can lead to inspiring outcomes. That’s how Bookworm Wednesday was born, and promoting this project has become a significant and positive part of my daughter’s life. Last week, she spoke about this spark at the Healthy Communities/Healthy Youth conference in Cincinnati.


You can’t be the expert at everything that ignites your child’s interest, but you can help her find a person who is. Spark champions can be coaches, teachers, church youth group mentors, neighbors or extended family members. Simple comments tell your child you’re listening and get him thinking about other people what might be great resources to pursue a spark.

Try this:

• “Have you ever thought about taking guitar lessons?”
• “Basketball signup is due next week. Are you going to join this year?”
• “Uncle Eric has a rock cutter. Maybe we should go visit him!”

In an ideal world, while someone else is nurturing your child’s spark, you’re nurturing another’s.


When you know your child’s interests, and it seems like the “spark’s gone dark”, talk to her about it. You might be able to help her work around a small obstacle. My son loved serving as crossing guard and one day he told me he’d quit. When I asked him what happened, he wanted to “blow it off” at first. Finally he explained there were only two vests and the other guards were getting them first. In his non-confrontational nature, he just bowed out.

I mentioned it to the paraprofessional in charge of the crossing guards and she was glad I’d told her – she thought he just didn’t want to do it anymore. They found a third vest and he’s been on-duty ever since. (This woman has since become a significant “spark champion” for my son in all leadership pursuits in school.)


Whether your passion is knitting or writing or riding horses, it’s healthy for your kids to witness you pursuing what’s important to you. What I enjoy most at this time in my life is my kids and their passions, but I also love photography, so I make sure my kids see me making time for it as well.


Every child has a spark, but it’s not always easy to identify. My challenge to you is to start this conversation. My daughter’s sparks are reading, writing, public speaking and leadership. My son’s sparks are rocks, math, chess and service to others. You can even visit to use an online tool to help your teenager identify his or her sparks.

I will be giving away one copy of Sparks: How Parents Can Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers to a reader here, selected randomly on Friday evening, November 13. Just answer this question in comments: What are your child’s sparks?

Thanks for joining in to build assets in your kids! I look forward to seeing you again next month for Positively Speaking.

UPDATE: generated comment #2 as the winner. Congratulations Margaret! Please send me your address and I’ll ship the book to you!

Kelly Curtis is a Wisconsin school counselor and author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things. To read more about Kelly, please visit her Weblog, Pass the Torch or follow her on Twitter.


  1. says

    Hi Kelly,
    Great article!
    What sparks my teens (I have 2)

    (1) anything sports, this includes, but not limited to: watching golf, football, tennis, swimming
    (2)computer (hardware) taking computers apart & putting together to suit his needs

  2. says

    Love the tips you shared. My kids sparks are when they pretend play and I ask questions about what they are doing. They love to share and I love to listen!

  3. says

    Both of my girls are “sparked” by reading and discussing books. My older daughter is into history and writing (she’s already planning to publish a book!) while for my younger daughter it’s drama and music.

  4. Jeanne Tonon says

    I have a 17 year old son, who found his passion of playing the guitar at age 13. He spends at least 3 hours a night playing and has become very proficient. His spark has allowed him to acquire many spark champions and has literally has changed his life!

  5. says

    It sounds like our daughters are similar. Mine is also “sparked” by reading, writing, and public attention (being on stage etc).

    I just read in a church newsletter that a high % of people praise their preschoolers daily, but it goes way down for older kids. I’ve thought a lot about that lately.

  6. says

    My young son’s sparks are rocks, sticks or anything outside (mine, too!); trains and horses or cowboy-related things. Oh and reading…in a big way.

    Thanks for doing the giveaway.


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