September 11th. It’s a day that none of us could ever forget. All of us have our stories of where we were when we heard about what had happened. Many of us sat in complete shock watching disturbing media coverage as the day unfolded. Every year on the anniversary, the images and stories are revisited as we remember that awful day in honor of those who lost their lives. For today’s children, however, the concept of what occurred is similar to hearing about awful things that happened during the Civil War or WWII. Children that were in kindergarten that day are now entering their senior year of high school. Now that I am a mother, I think about how difficult it must have been for parents of those small children to explain to them what was happening in the world around them. While my husband and I have always agreed that we want to make our daughters self-aware (with just the right amount of skepticism), the thought of having those kinds of conversations is terrifying. In all honesty, I wish I could just keep them in a bubble and protect them from all that is bad.
Now that my own daughter is in kindergarten, the difficult questions are starting to arise. When the Boston Marathon bombings happened earlier this year, she wanted to know what was going on and why someone would do something so evil. I was caught a little off-guard when she asked me this, but I was just honest with her and gave her basic information. She was easily reassured that we were not in danger, and she went back to playing with her Legos. In anticipation of the 9/11 anniversary, I wanted to prepare myself on how to handle these types of questions. There are many excellent resources for parents that give advice on how to talk to children about September 11th or any other tragic news story. Using these resources, I have created a guide that I would like to share with you. I hope that you will find it useful!
1. First, figure out what your child already knows. This will help guide your discussion.
2. Don’t over-explain. Try to stick to what questions are asked and not go too far beyond that.
3. Allow your child to express her own feelings about the events.
4. Reassure your child that he is safe. Model confidence/assurance.
5. Focus on the positive as much as possible. Some ideas:
• Explain how people showed resilience through the tragedy.
• Discuss how people demonstrated strength and bravery.
• Say a prayer together.
• Take action through fundraising, writing a letter, etc.
6. Consider reading or listening to the media coverage (rather than watching) to avoid graphic images. This especially applies with younger children.
7. Consider using videos and/or books to guide your discussion. You will find some suggestions below.
There are two great online videos you should check out. These videos can be used to guide your discussion about 9/11. I love that they were made specifically for kids, since it is such a sensitive topic. Of course, you should watch each video in its entirety so that you can decide if it is appropriate for your child to view.
This Nick News video is aimed towards children older than my girls, but I thought it was REALLY well done. It is definitely something I would show them when they are a little older.
BrainPOP was one of my favorite instructional tools as a classroom teacher. It is a website with animated videos on various educational topics. Some videos require a subscription to view, but there are many free ones. I checked out this free video they made about September 11th, and I thought it was very well done.
Picture books can be a great way to guide your discussion and help your child understand the events. I was amazed at how many picture books have been written about 9/11. Here are a few to check out:
A picture book more appropriate for older children (9 and older). Takes a journalistic approach to telling the story and includes real-world accounts of the day.
Tells the story of the historic chapel that somehow survived 9/11, despite being only 100 yards away from the Twin Towers. Beautiful story and illustrations!
* A free digital version of this book can be found here.
The story of 9/11 narrated by someone born on that day.
A touching book written by first grade students at an elementary school in Missouri. This book presents an amazing message of hope and resilience.
An article written on the 10-year anniversary, published by Child Mind Institute.
An awesome guide created by PBS Parents. Includes specific age-by-age advice, discussion starters, and strategies for talking and listening. Definitely bookmarking this one!