Explaining 9/11. How to talk to your kids about tragedy.

The day we all changed was September 11, 2001. We suffered death on that day, all of us. A death of a loved one, a death of presumption and of tranquility.

My kids weren’t yet born in 2001, but each year as memorials are broadcast over the television and ribbons are hung in storefronts, I’ve had to find the words when my children ask, “What happened on that day?” and the hardest question of all, “Why?”

Looking for the right words and the gravitas of my delivery weighs on me heavily. As parents, we want to know that our children can depend on us to explain things they don’t understand. To inform without instilling the fear that can suffocate and explain what happened on that awful day without stealing their innocence. Hopefully some of these tips can make the conversation easier and possibly change it from a horror story to one of empowerment, beauty and community.

1) Be factual
It’s parental instinct to want to soften the hard edges of this scary story, but armed with the basic facts, you’ll be able to deliver it with more confidence. Read the “What happened on 9/11?” article on scholastic.com for a succinct account of the attacks. Based on your children’s ages, it’s absolutely ok to share only what you know they can handle.

2) Be deliberate with your TV viewing
Visual images of 9/11 are still disturbing for those of us who lived through it. Imagine the confusion and fear that a child experiences when watching planes crash into the towers over and over again. In the days surrounding the anniversary, there are many programs dedicated to documenting our country’s tragedy and many are ok to watch as a family—just record and view them first so you can determine if you’re comfortable with the content.

3) Don’t focus on anger/hatred
Kids are better at picking up emotional cues than most adults so it’s important to keep your anger in check when talking about 9/11. Kids often translate anger into fear, not to mention the need to mimic and repeat your words to their peers. Let them be a mirror of your fairest self.

4) Put value on remembrance
Because children under the age of 18 most likely don’t remember the actual events, try to focus on remembrance of those who lost their lives on that tragic day. The web has many websites dedicated to teaching and sharing the details of 9/11 including tributewtc.org and 911memorial.org. Scholastic.com has a suggested book list and articles on helping kids deal with anxiety and trauma.

5) Highlight the heroes
One of my favorite quotes about dealing with children and tragedy comes from Mr. Rogers. He said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Encourage children to express their thanks to a firefighter or police officer you may meet around town or drop off a care package to your local station. Understanding that we can come together as a community to help each other, no matter our profession, is important for kids to feel safe. It feels pretty nice for us adults, too.

Written by Suzanna Vicinus-Clark. Former owner and founder of WCKC.


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