Book review: We need to talk by Richard Heyman

Posted on February 8, 2010 
Filed Under Anita, Book Review, The Star

By Anita Matthews
Published in ParenThots, The Star, Feb 8, 2010

By Richard Heyman
Publisher: Adams Media

Communications professor Richard Heyman’s book is a refreshing change from the standard staple available on store shelves. Instead of focusing on why parents need to communicate with their offspring, Heyman details the “hows”.

That nailed it for me. As a parent I have often found it difficult to say the right thing to my children and more often than not, I come off sounding as if I am taking sides. Needless to say, most times, the right words come to me only in retrospect. Perhaps I should write down past experiences for future reference. That is exactly what Heyman delivers in the 200-odd pages of this very useful book.

He starts off by sharing his and his wife’s experience of teaching their son the value of responsibility. The latter was 18 and of legal age but was jobless and not interested in college. According to Heyman, his son had always rejected parental authority and they knew they were unable to manage him. The best solution was for him to move out and take charge of his own life.

Heyman then recounted in intimate detail the conversation he and his wife had with the boy. It was an illuminating read as they managed to get their son to come to terms with the fact that he’s an adult and while they loved him very much, they had to let him go for his own good. One would argue that this is hardly an Asian parenting style but I beg to differ. Having witnessed couples, including my parents, suffer as they care for the sons and daughters who never move out, has changed my view on dependence and independence. Elderly parents have a right to enjoy their twilight years, too.

Intimacy apart, Heyman’s greatest value in the book is the potential and actual conversation starters and conservation outcomes for a range of difficult subjects parents can have with their kids. Sex, death, divorce, toys, money, behaviour and attitude are discussed at length here. Each conversation is sensitive of a child’s perception and delivered with logic.

Unlike most books that are written for specific age groups, Heyman has scripted conversations for toddlers to school children to teens. For each age segment, Heyman begins by providing a brief introduction and context to the conversation that would take place and the importance of nurturing good discussions at a young age.

The scripts are articulate, thoughtful and tactful with a positive tone that does not patronise nor preach. Within the script, Heyman also explains why a child would answer in a certain manner and how parents can counter the response without confusing the child. He offers appropriate responses that would encourage the child to think for himself and not judge others through presumption. For instance, a conversation with a pre-schooler about a special classmate on page 91 went like this:

You: Laura was born with something that makes it harder for her to learn as quickly as you and your friends.
Child: Why?
You: It happens that sometimes babies are born that way.
Child: Could I be that way?
You: No, it actually happens before you are born, when you’re still in your mommy’s tummy.
Child: Can you fix her?
You: Do you think she needs to be fixed?
Child: Yes. Then she could do things easier. She could dance better.
You: Don’t you think she dances well?
Child: Yes, but not as good as us.
You: Is it okay for her to be different? Do you still like her? Do the other girls like her?
Child: I like her. Other girls like her, too.
You: How do you think Laura feels? Does she like you and the other girls? Does she like dancing?
Child: She likes me. She always wants to dance near me and play, too. She likes dancing.
You: I hope you will always be nice to her and to any other girls and boys who seem different from you.
Child: I will.

Now the subject of dance that was discussed might seem trivial to adults but in actual fact, it is a serious matter for any child and its outcome does set the tone on how a growing child would perceive special people or how they would perceive their parents’ view on special people.

Heyman has previously written how-to books and this how-to book is an easy read. The information is well thought out and laid out. Each chapter discusses a topic all parents would encounter at some point in the parenting years. The book can be read and re-read over and over again, depending on the issue at hand. It is a great resource for parents.

Since mankind did not get a manual on raising kids, Heyman’s book is a wonderful addition for folks who aspire to connect effectively with their kids. After all, parents do share a common goal – that is to raise thoughtful kids.


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