As today is the anniversary of September 11, 2001, it’s a good day to sit and reflect with our children about what this day means to us and to our history as Americans. If your children are middle school aged or younger, they have no recollection of that day, though they’ve probably heard about it each year. If they’re teenagers, they may remember some things about 9/11, depending on where they were, what they were doing, and whether your family was affected personally by the tragedy. Here are some ways that you can help your children understand what 9/11 was all about, in age-appropriate ways.
- Bring it up in a way to find what they already know. If your child is in school, chances are that it will be or has been discussed. Older children may have some knowledge of what happened, but the information they have may be incomplete. Talking first to find out what they know about September 11, 2001 is a good way to gauge how much information they’re ready to hear.
- Allow yourself to be sad. If you lost someone on that day or if you’re feeling emotional about it, then don’t feel that you need to hide your feelings. The day was extremely sad, distressing, terrifying and anger-producing for nearly everyone; while you shouldn’t become hysterical or scare your child, it’s okay to let him see that you’re emotional about it.
- Don’t volunteer too much information. They might know the general facts from school, but young elementary-schoolers probably don’t know, nor do they need to know, all of the graphic details about how some of the people died and what conditions were like inside the buildings. Answer questions, but beware of giving TMI.
- Keep the television off for most of the day. News stations may show footage over and over again, which can be confusing to a younger child. He might be afraid that it’s happening currently, or think that it’s happening repeatedly. Even older children can find the images disturbing. If you want to show your older child once, then do so, but don’t allow it to play over and over again.
- Focus on the positives. Talk about how things have changed, how airlines have beefed up security to keep everyone safer, and how other safety measures have been put into effect. People of all walks of life jumped at the chance to help others during those tumultuous days. Reassure your child that she’s as safe as possible from terrorism.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Talking about 9/11 isn’t a one-time thing; your child may think of more questions in the days, weeks and months that follow. Let him know that he can come to you if he has questions at any time.
September 11, 2001 was a tragic and unforgettable day in the course of American history. As adults who lived through the day, we’re able to carefully guide our children through processing this piece of our lives that they didn’t experience firsthand, but will one day share with their own children through our stories.