We ALL lost something on September 11th, 2001. For those of us who weren’t affected directly, we all grieved for those who were. We hung our heads and our hearts ached for the innocent people killed, their families, those covered in ash in NY City as they fled the scene. When the towers came down on 9/11, most of us were fearful of what might be coming next. Why would anyone kill innocent people? Am I safe? It was a horrific, unthinkable act of evil. After fear came anger. Then surfaced stories of heroism and courage beyond human nature which inspired patriotism. America united, grieved and rebuilt as a proud nation. So the question is, how do you explain ALL this to a child?
Sit in a calm and quiet place. When approaching a subject that involves tragedy and emotion it is best to make sure the child is calm and focused, and in a setting that is not overwhelming or distracting. This is a conversation to both reassure your child and explain the event in a responsible way so that the child can understand to the best of their abilities.
Your child wants to know what happened. Hmmm…where do we begin?
Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D writes in Psychology Today, “For many of us adults, 9/11 was a pivotal life experience; for children, it’s a historical event. The first question that most children will have is, “What happened?” They’re too young to have many memories of their own of September 11th, but they’re likely to see or hear media coverage of it. They may also hear about it at school or from friends.”
Ask your child, “What have you heard about 9/11?” Why not start here! Listen to what they know, what they think they might know or what they have questions about.
Keep it simple and age appropriate. Better to be realistic with a filter. Simple is best. Keeping to feelings and positivity rather than hatred and graphic details. No sense in causing stress or anxiety in your little one.
Listen to your child to uncover how they are feeling about it. This can help you decide what he/she needs to hear from you in order to feel safe.
Am I safe? Humans by nature want to know that they are safe and secure. It is important to reassure your child that they are safe.
“With teens or philosophically minded children, it might help to talk about the fact that getting out of bed every morning is an act of courage and faith. It takes courage because we know that bad things could happen, but we choose to live our lives anyway, and to have faith that, overall, the good in life far outweighs the bad” (Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D, Psychology Today).
Discuss who will keep me safe? List parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends. Reassure them they will always be loved.
Older children may want to know not only what happened, but why. This is the most difficult question to answer. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D explains, “They thought they were serving God by trying to kill as many Americans as possible. That’s not what we believe. That’s not what most Muslims believe, either” (Psychology Today).
If your child is resistant to talking about it, don’t push it. You can always wait until another time or take a different approach on another day.
Limit television with graphic details. Children may take media coverage out of context and believe that it is happening right before their eyes. Reassure them that this happened long ago and the man behind these attacks is no longer here.
Be hopeful- Even if you feel discouraged or hateful toward the acts that took place on 9/11 try to filter your anger from your children. They may feed off of your emotion and can misinterpret your message. Try to respond with a message of love and positivity.