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How to Discuss 9/11 With Your Kids

It's important to tell children the truth, but sometimes there are no good answers

While on a recent family vacation, I began to discuss 9/11 with three of my nieces. Immediately, my 25 year-old niece stated that she was in Math class when the first tower was hit. My twin sixteen year-old nieces just sat with blank expressions on their faces. They do not remember anything about the event, except for the fact that it happened when they were little.

This prompted me to think that in two short years, peers of my sixteen year-old nieces could be fighting al-Qaeda, and not have a solid understanding as to the impetus behind the so-called “War on Terror”.

So how can we, as moms (and dads too), talk with our children about 9/11? Where is a good starting point?

As with many conversations about events that are difficult to share with children and adolescents, begin by asking your child what he or she already knows about the event. Parents might want to launch the conversation with their older elementary, middle or high school aged child similar to this:

Over the next few days, you might see or hear on the TV or radio, or see on the Internet or in magazines, some stories about 9/11. What do you know about 9/11?

By asking what he or she knows about 9/11, you are empowering your child to share his or her knowledge about this day. Let your child drive the conversation, and only intervene to clarify or correct misperceptions.

Once you have an understanding of what your child knows about 9/11, both of you might realize that deeper issues or questions remain. Ask your child:

What would you like to know about 9/11? I will do my best to answer your questions. If I don’t know the answer, we can find it out together.

By telling your child that you are willing to answer questions and assist in finding answers, you are showing your child that you care about his or her concerns. Furthermore, you are establishing a dialogue about a significant piece of American history with your child.

When answering your child’s questions, know the limits of what information he or she can handle processing at one time. Moreover, be aware of your limitations, and the fact that sometimes, there just are not any answers to tragedies of this magnitude.

The following are some tips for answering your child’s questions about 9/11:

  • Keep information age-appropriate
  • Avoid generalizations
  • Be specific and factual
  • Avoid graphic detail in regard to death and destruction
  • Tell them the truth

Here are a few websites that are useful to parents when sharing about 9/11:

http://www.pbs.org/parents/talkingwithkids/news/agebyage.html

http://www.teachablemoment.org/9-11anniversary.html

http://www.nyspcc.org/nyspcc/Resources/Talking_to_your_child_about_9-11_HPdoc.pdf

Additionally, there are several websites that you can share with your child:

http://www.911memorial.org/

http://911day.org/

http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/collection.jsp?id=844

For younger children, who might be curious as to why 9/11 is an important day, parents should keep their responses in simple, age-appropriate language. An example of a response is as follows:

Some people chose to break buildings and hurt lots of people. But lots of other people came to help. 9/11 is a day to remember and thank all of the people who came to help, and today we can do something good to help others too.

Regardless of age, the overall message that you want to convey to your child is that the adults in his or her life are working to assure that he or she is safe. 9/11 can be conveyed as a message of caring for others and hope for the future.

Now that’s something to Never Forget.

beth September 11, 2011 at 04:17 PM
Great advise. I especially like where you say, "and today we can do something good to help others too."

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