By Alex Temblador
Today is September 11th and for many of you, this day is significant. Whether you were in New York City when it happened or you were living in Hawaii at the time, the events that occurred on 9/11 impacted us all. Every one of us has a personal story about how we learned of the terrorist attacks that day. We know where we were at, what we were doing, who said what, and how we felt in the following days, months, and the changes that occurred because of September 11th in the following years. However, many children are not aware of what September 11th is and what it meant for the United States. Anyone under the age of fourteen wasn’t even alive during that time. Which begs to question—how does a parent or a guardian talk to their children about September 11th? To help you out today and in the years to come, here are 10 things to consider when talking to your kids about 9/11.
- Do talk to them about it.
It’s important that you do talk to your children about September 11th. Not only is it a part of our history (and a significant one at that), but it’s something that your children are going to learn about eventually, and as parents and guardians, it’s your job to talk to them about it. With media coverage around September 11th, your children may be exposed to images or hear their friends talking about the attacks, and it is best for you to sit them down and discuss it before they are given false information or become distressed from hearing exaggerated or false stories.
- Bring up the conversation about September 11th before the day arrives.
It would be best to have a conversation about 9/11 with your children before the day arrives. This will allow you to brush up on the facts, consider how you are going to discuss the terrorist attacks with your children, and allows you to have control of the topic. You don’t want to be caught off guard preparing dinner and your children asks, “What’s 9/11?” or worse, “Are the terrorists still out there?”
- Extremely scary details can be left out.
We know the tragic stories from 9/11: people jumping out of buildings, the amount of deaths, the story of the plane hijacking, and much more. Just because we know the details, does not mean we should share it with children. Leave scary and tragic details out. It’s not pertinent for kids to know at a young age and would only cause emotional distress.
- Speak to your children with age-appropriateness in mind.
It’s good to consider your children’s ages when speaking to them about September 11th. A three-year-old might not be able to understand the events or need to know about them yet. Similarly, how you discuss 9/11 with a five year old will be different than how you discuss it with an 11 year old. For younger ages, simplify the events, or perhaps even generalize it: “9/11 is a day of remembrance for heroes and a day that we all come together as Americans to stand in unity.” On the other hand, seven-year-old kids are quite old enough to grasp an in-depth conversation about the terrorist attacks.
- Consider using children’s books to discuss 9/11.
These children’s books discuss 9/11. They can be used to introduce your kids to the subject. Check them out:
- Listen to their questions and try to answer honestly.
It’s important that you listen to your children. They will express their concerns and fears, but you have to be listening. It might be a good tactic to sit back passively and let them talk and ask questions. If they don’t have in-depth questions about the event, don’t bring them up. They might not be ready or need to know such information at the time. Additionally, your kids will probably ask tough questions like: “Will this happen again?” “Could they attack us here?” “Why would they kill all of those people?” Answer honestly: “I don’t know,” “Possibly.” By remaining honest, your children will trust you enough to return to you with questions. Shutting down their questions will not make them want to open up to you in the future on this subject (or others), so be aware of that when speaking to your children.
- Do not perpetuate false stereotypes or false information concerning the terrorist attacks.
September 11th happened 14 years ago. Quite a lot of time has passed and you might not remember the details very well. Consider a refresher with this CNN fast fact sheet or with this informational brochure that the 9/11 museum hands out to parents and kids.
In addition, be sure that you do not impart false stereotypes to your children. Following the terrorist attacks, many Muslims and people of Middle Eastern decent were discriminated against for something that they did not have any part in. It’s important to remember that the terrorists were religious extremists and are not representative of Islam or the Middle East. Therefore, consider carefully how you discuss the 9/11 terrorists and do not instill in your children false stereotypes or fear of Islam, Muslims, or people of Middle Eastern decent.
Every TV network, social media account, and the internet will be featuring 9/11. Limit your child’s exposure to the media coverage on September 11th. The media will be replaying videos of the planes hitting the towers and other first-hand video accounts of what occurred on the street and in the weeks after. Watching this coverage will not be conducive of your child’s mental health. Instead, plan a family outing on September 11th or encourage a family game night or other activities that will keep the TV off and your kids off the internet.
- Reassure your children of their safety.
Your kids may wonder if we are safe today. Reassure them that we are. Those that masterminded the attacks have been killed or captured and we have much tighter security, airport and otherwise. Your children need to know that they can live their lives without fear, and you can be the one that gives them that.
- Do something proactive on 9/11.
You and your children may feel powerless about what happened on 9/11 or the fact that there is still terrorism in the world, which is why you should do something proactive to combat those fears and to transform them into doing something good for your home, community, and nation. Here are a few ideas.
If you live near the memorial, it may be easy to plan a weekend trip. However for those that do not live nearby, the anniversary of September 11th might be a time to discuss going to the National 11 Memorial & Museum (and checking out New York City as well). Plan the trip out with your kids and set a date. Look over the pictures of the memorial on the memorial’s website. Involve your kids with a “Save for NYC” jar where they can put coin that they find or money that they’re given at Christmas in the jar toward the trip.
- Check out Tuesday’s Children and see if your children want to get involved.
Tuesday’s Children is an organization that supports children, families, and individuals that were impacted by 9/11. There are various ways to contribute to these families through donation, volunteering, having your school sponsor a child, run, swim, or bike during a Tuesday’s Children endurance event, host a fundraiser, or attend an event. You just might be surprised by how enthusiastic your kids will want to be involved with helping out and giving back to 9/11 survivors and families.
9/11 is a good time to consider a safety plan with your family in case of an emergency. Go as a family to the store to buy items for an emergency bag. Create a safety plan for your family in case of a natural emergency like a flood, fire, tornado, or blizzard. Replace the old batteries in your smoke alarm. Practice your safety plan or fire escape plan. And then finish off the evening with an ice cream, a funny movie, and some family bonding time, because this is the time of year that we remember to be thankful and love and protect one another.
Featured photo by DVIDSHUB