Monday, October 8, 2012

How to Help Kids Find their “Spot”

Guest Post by Irene Latham
There’s a lot of talk these days about “passion.” We want it for ourselves, and we want it for our kids. We worry that if we don’t have it—or if our kids don’t have it—we’ve somehow failed.

But what about the family in which the parents have definite passions, passions so fervent and consuming that they assume and expect the children to share them? What happens when the child doesn’t share those passions?

That’s the situation in my new novel DON’T FEED THE BOY. Whit is the only son of zoo people—his mother is the zoo director of Meadowbrook Zoo, and his father is an elephant keeper. They are so engaged by their passion for exotic animals that they often overlook Whit. They just assume that he loves zoo life as much as they do.

Well, guess what? Whit feels trapped by zoo life. He wants something all his own. And he’s pretty sure he’s not going to find that thing at the zoo. His journey is about finding his place in the world, finding his spot.

The good news for parents today is that it is easier than ever to expose kids to a bunch of different activities. Lessons are available for cooking and knitting and soccer and dance and art and horseback riding and just about anything you can think of. The key, of course, is not to go overboard. It’s important not to get sucked into the competitive model of parenting in which “my kid is better than your kid.” We as parents don’t want to err in the opposite way of Whit parents, by over-control instead of neglect.

Here’s some ideas on how to strike a healthy balance:

  1. Listen to your child. Is it your child who wants a passion, or is it you who wants a passion for your child? With three boys and eighteen years of parenting experience, I can say that I have wasted a lot of time trying to “fix” something in my kids that didn’t need to be fixed. If a child is content, that’s great! I remember the poster in my kids’ first grade teacher’s classroom: “All kids are gifted, they just open their gifts at different times.” It’s the same for passion. It’s okay if your child is a teenager and still doesn’t seem sure of what his or her passion is. Sometimes it takes a while. Your job is to offer love and support across the journey.
  2. Practice curiosity. That’s all passion really is: intense curiosity. And one of the best ways to help a child find an interest is to expose him or her to a lot of different things. And that doesn’t have to be in the form of lessons or a class! It doesn’t even have to cost anything! When I talk to writers experiencing writer’s block, I tell them to “go out and live a life worth writing about.” Go to museums, talk to 3 year olds and 93 year olds. Take a walk, take a trip. Try a new recipe or restaurant. Pick up a leaf. If you share this kind of curiosity with your child, he or she will have more opportunity to discover what suits him or her.
  3. Be willing to go the distance. Sometimes the thing our kids are interested in aren’t all that convenient for us. Or worse, we don’t really like the activity at all. For several years, one of my sons was passionate about competitive swimming. Those meets last ALL DAY. There’s chlorine involved, which irritates my sinuses. Practices were every single day. The pool was the last place I wanted to be! But I kept thinking about another poster, this one in the office at our local middle school : “What’s easiest for the parent is not usually what’s best for the child.” I love that! So yes, I made it happen for my son, even though it wasn’t what was easiest for me.
  4. Be forgiving if the passion fades. Sometimes passions are fleeting. Many times they do not equal future careers. Fortunately these are not the only measures of success. Anything your child is exposed to helps shape that child. For a few years, I was passionate about zoo animals and thought I’d like to be a veterinarian. I trained as a zoo teen volunteer at our local Birmingham Zoo. For weeks I thrived in the classes where we learned all sorts of animal facts. Then came the day to witness a surgery. Oh, my! It was at that point that I decided I should just write about the animals instead.

No experience is wasted. Our job as parents is to introduce our children to life—not just life as we know it, but life in all its many forms. The Whits of the world are counting on us. Now, go out, all of you, and find your spot!

We're giving away a copy of Irene Latham's book, Don't Feed the Boy. Just leave a comment to this story by Friday, October 12 at 5pm EST. Good luck!

Irene Latham is a poet and novelist who lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama. Her debut novel Leaving Gee's Bend was named a Bank Street College Best Book, a SIBA finalist, a Crystal Kite Finalist and ALLA's Children's Book of the Year. As a child she dreamed of being a zoo veterinarian and even trained as a teenage zoo volunteer. All it took was observing one surgery to convince her that perhaps she'd better just write about the animals instead. Visit her at her site.

Photo at top of story is Irene and her brothers; portrait of Irene Latham ©Lynn Baker; all are used by permission; not for reuse.


  1. Love the post and your connection to the issues of wanting so much for one's child, but it's not necessarily what he or she wants. I had a student once write a story about a boy whose 'whole' family were sports crazy-but not him. He loved music & so desperately wanted to play an instrument. For a young student, it was a marvelous (and telling) story-as you so artfully explained above. Can't wait to read the book, Irene!

    1. Thank you, Linda. That's exactly the kind of story that made me want to write this book. It takes a lot of courage to go one's own way... even admitting such a difference takes courage. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. And thank you Media Darlings, for having me!

  3. This book covers an issue that has been going on for a while. How many families do we know that have had family businesses for years and with today's technology, the younger family members have no interest at all in running the family business. I think it's so important to let youngsters try many different things while they are growing up. Some things will interest them and some will not. How will they ever know if they don't try? I think a lot of people will relate to this book.