December 2021

A parents’ tip sheet for talking to children about author Chaim Walder and his books

By Dr. Rachel Dale, PsyD
Director of Psychology Services, Jewish Family Service of Clifton-Passaic
In consultation with Rabbinic Board Members of JFS

This tip sheet aims to be a general guide to help parents navigate discussing the aftermath of the tragic and distressing news that our community has learned regarding Chaim Walder. This tragedy is unique in that the alleged perpetrator of serious crimes was a prolific author of children’s books, including the Kids Speak series that are beloved by many and geared to teaching and connecting to children’s unique experiences.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a counselor at JFS, please email [email protected] or call 973-777-7638 x151.

Recently a p’sak was written by prominent Rabbis in Israel to stop reading Chaim Walder’s books and to remove them from the bookshelves of our homes and schools. Please consult your local Rabbinical Authority for what is best for you and your family.
If you chose to remove Kids Speak and other books written by Chaim Walder from your bookshelves, you might ask yourself, “Should I bring this up to my child prior to removing them or should I remove the books and wait for the appropriate time to discuss the reasons why?”
As their parent you know your child best. Take into consideration their developmental age and their personality/temperament. For example, if you have a teenager at home who will clearly notice that the books are removed or may hear things at school or from friends, it will likely be best to broach the topic with them. If a child is quite young and is not aware of this topic or does not have a connection to the books, it is likely not necessary to discuss removing the books with them.
For parent initiated conversations:
  • Open by asking your kids questions to see what they know. For school-age children and teens, you can ask what they have heard at school or from friends.
  • Follow your child’s lead. If your child doesn’t seem interested or doesn’t want to talk about it at the moment, don’t push.
  • Tell the truth, but share only as much as your child needs to know. Try to maintain a calm disposition to help kids feel safe. Don’t offer more details than your child is interested in.
  • Listen carefully. For some kids, hearing about an upsetting event might make them worry, “Could I be next? Could that happen to me?” Older kids may have lots of questions. Focus on what your kids ask so you can help them cope with their concerns. An adult’s willingness to listen sends a powerful message.
  • It’s OK to say you don’t know the answer. If your child asks a question that stumps you, say you’ll find out.
If your child asks you first, here are sample responses:
Child: Ima, where are the Kids Speak books?
  Or, Tatty, I heard I can’t read Kids Speak books anymore.
Parent: Thank you for asking me about this. We learned that the author of those books did some terrible things to people and the Rabbis let us know that it is best to remove the books and not read them. We prefer to have books in our home that are written by good role models.
Child: Really? That is so strange because his books where all about doing good things and helping people.
Parent: Yes, it is understandable to be confused or even surprised by this. I know we got a lot of out of these books as a family. People are complicated. We don’t really know the full situation about the author. It is possible he aspired to do good things but he also did hurtful and harmful things too. It can be confusing. We are here to talk to you about this. Please let me know if you have more questions or want to talk about it more.
General Suggestions for talking about these current events:
  • Focus on facts about the current events. “We learned that the author of these books did some very bad things to others.”
  • Acknowledge the role that this author may have had in their lives. “I know you really enjoyed his books.”
  • Validate feelings. “It is ok to feel however you feel right now. You might feel sad. Sadness helps us process loss and change. You may be confused and that’s okay.”
  • Encourage Communication. It is important that your children feel as though they can come to you to discuss what they hear about these events. Consider saying, “It is possible that kids you know will talk about this. If they say anything that you are not sure about, I want you to know that you can come to me (or other parent, Rebbe, teacher, trusted adult) and ask anything that is on your mind.”
  • Ground in Safety: You may want to use this an opportunity to talk about protecting personal space. “I love you and I’m here for you. If you ever feel uncomfortable with someone, no matter who it is, you should distance yourself from them and tell a trusted adult. I will never be upset or angry with you if you share something like this with me.”
Questions about Death and Suicide:
It is possible that your child or teenager may bring up questions about his death and suicide. Consider entering the conversation by asking and exploring what they have heard. Gathering more information allows you as the parent to be on the same page as your child so you can meet them where they are with the information that they have. Providing too much detailed information may be overwhelming. Conversely, avoiding the topic may send the message that this area is taboo. Keep close to the facts about the situation and follow the general guidelines listed above.
Here is a hypothetical dialogue for illustration:
Teenager: Someone at school said that the author died and that he actually killed himself.
Parent: I am glad that you are coming to me to talk about some things you are hearing. What else have you heard?
Teenager: Not much, just that he killed himself, you know – suicide.
Parent: Yes, that is what I heard too. He committed suicide.
Teenager: That is awful.
Parent: Yes, it is upsetting. It appears that he did terrible things to other people and then to himself.
Teenager: Why would someone do that to themselves?
Parent: This situation can lead us to ask a lot of big questions like that. We’ll never know exactly what went through his mind or what he was feeling. He may have been afraid, embarrassed or in terrible pain.
Parent may add: It is tragic that he did not seek out help to avoid this outcome. Some people who die by suicide have a serious mental health condition but the good thing is there is help available for them.
You can come to me anytime if you want to talk more about this. I am here for you.
If you have a particular challenge or question, please consider reaching out to your Rav or JFS for guidance and support.