As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, many parents wonder how to best explain this day to their children and how to help children cope with anxieties and questions about that devastating day. Each child will have a different way of dealing with the day, whether they are just learning about it in school or they lived through the harrowing day as we did. There are a few universal tips to navigating your conversation with your children, no matter their age or knowledge of the events.
Listen. Allow the child to explain what they know and ask any questions, no matter how uncomfortable they may be. Actively listen to them and be respectful of their emotions, allowing them to express any feelings they may have. If you are having trouble getting the dialogue started, try a few open questions such as “What would you like to know about 9/11” or “What have you learned about 9/11?” Try to stick to facts when answering questions, and remember that it is okay to acknowledge that we still don’t have a lot of answers.
Make them feel secure. The most important thing you can do for your child is to reassure their safety. Talk about how society has changed to make us more secure. Remind them that airports have tightened security, communities have become more vigilant, and point out how even schools have added precautions to keep us safe. As you discuss that day, keep reinforcing that while there are people who do bad things, your child is safe.
Acknowledge the day carefully. 9/11 is a hard day for most people. While it is okay to be solemn and reflective, watch your own mood and the coping skills that you exhibit to your children. Also carefully supervise their media consumption as they may see disturbing images from the day on TV or hear disturbing accounts on the radio.
Reinforce a message of hope. Make sure to emphasize the stories of heroes on that day. Emphasize the way communities came together to comfort each other. Use the day to do a community service project together or make a thank you card for local fire fighters.