Last month we posted about Peter Benson of the Search Institute, whose revolutionary developmental assets approach changed how we view child development. If you missed last month’s post, you can read the full article here

Benson’s positive approach to child development and success focuses on ‘sparks’ — what we call the natural high — that interest, activity, or talent that sparks a feeling that only comes from finding one’s true passion in life. 

The ‘spark’, Benson found, is the single most important factor for young people to thrive. 

This is why we focus so much of our effort on what we call the natural high — because when a young person finds their passion and pursues it, we know that it can make all the difference. 

Studies show that a kid who finds their spark is more primed for success and less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.

If you didn’t get a chance to Peter Benson’s Ted Talk, check it out here. It’s worth every minute of your time.

TED Talk - Peter Benson

In his talk, Benson outlines what a ‘spark’ is, how to recognize it, and how to cultivate it in your children. 

We’re sharing this with you because parents often ask us – how do I help my child find their natural high?

Here are five things you can do, starting today, to help cultivate your child’s natural high and set them up the best way possible for success 

1.) Recognize the Power of Sparks

Benson was not exaggerating when he said that a young person finding their ‘spark’ is the single most important factor in helping them thrive and lead a successful life. 

Let’s repeat that — The single most important factor.

This means that while it’s important that you speak to your child about safeguards, and while it’s important that they are deterred from potentially negative behavior, as parents we’ve got to do more than focus on the negative. The fact is, changing behavior in youth is not just about presenting the ‘risk’ and then threatening consequences. 

We have to give them a choice that is not just about avoiding a negative but choosing a positive

This means that we need to devote more time and energy as parents towards actively helping them find their spark. And to do this, we have to really understand how important it is. 

We can do this, together. Start today. Talk to your child. Ask them what drives them, what gives them that feeling like no other. The best part? When a kid finds their spark, everybody wins. Watching a child’s eyes light up is a joy for parents — and the more you value the power of the spark, the more they will too.

2.) Know Your Own Teenager

A lot of parents think they know their kids well. But then, most parents underestimate the likelihood of their child binge drinking or using drugs. 

If we’re going to support our kids in finding their spark — that natural high that will continue to motivate them into their adult years — we have to really commit to getting to know them, to understanding them, and listening to what makes them tick.

The Center for Parenting Education says that active listening is one of the most powerful and important tools a parent can have in their parenting tool belt. 

Let’s listen to our kids. Pay attention to them. Observe what they are interested in. Notice what activities make their eyes light up. The more attentive we are as parents, the more we can respond to positive inclinations in our kids and then actively cultivate those positive leanings into something. If you see your kid is interested in an activity, talk about it with them. Ask them questions. Be interested. Get them to articulate what about it they love. This helps them hone in on their true passions in life.

3.) Help Discover and Reveal Their Spark

Once that spark is revealed, it’s our job as parents to coax it into flame. This means not just sitting back and observing our child’s hobbies and interests and passions, but regularly and proactively encouraging them to pursue their Natural High. 

Encourage them to research more about it. Set aside time to do this with them. Help them find videos of heroes and role models who have pursued the same high. Whatever it is — music, sports, art, fashion, design — check in with them regularly about how their practice of it is going. Be there, every step of the way.

4.) Be the Captain of Your Kid’s Spark Team

Verbal encouragement is great, but it only goes so far. Many activities take material support. Consider what resources in terms of time and money you can devote to your child’s natural high. If there’s an after school class that would help them excel in the pursuit of their natural high, enroll them in it. If there are resources they need to take them higher, map out how you as a family can make it work. As parents, we need to be the people that are the most enthusiastic and dedicated to our child’s natural high — the captains of the spark team.

5.) Keep Your Teen’s Spark Lit

It’s a lot of work to stick to one’s natural high. Sometimes, after the honeymoon is over, the dedication that activities like rock climbing, or dancing, or playing the guitar take can be daunting. Kids can be tempted to want to drop it. As parents, our reinforcement of the message of persistence can be one of the most valuable things a child can receive. We don’t want to put inordinate amounts of pressure on our kids, but positive encouragement to persist through the obstacles goes a very long way.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Together we can help our kids find that spark that will change their lives for the better.

We’re here to support you.

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