Our nation’s honorable remembrance of 9/11 is an opportunity for parents, teachers, and caregivers to meet their children in a tender and immensely teachable moment. These are a few ways to prepare with sensitive words and a keen understanding of the child’s perspective.
Be Aware of Media Exposure
Talk to your child’s teachers and daycare employees about 9/11 memorials. Will there be mention of it at school? What elements of the occasion will be involved? Arming yourself with awareness allows you a more accurate starting point regarding any conversations you may have with your child.
If your child is too young to be reasonably engaged in public conversations, then perhaps you can put off the conversation for a more relevant time.
If you do not believe your child has been or will be exposed to the subject of 9/11, choose a time and age when you can tell the story in broad context. Make them aware of the event that critically shaped our nation and patriotism. Once you have told the story, allow your child to ask any questions they may have, and answer factually. Try not to place any expectations on your child – history is a tricky subject for a child (especially a young child) to absorb.
Monitor television and web exposure. At the time of our tragedy, the media played terrifying images over and over again. Children who saw this at the time may be disturbed by replayed images in the news. Children who have never seen it before will have an incomplete picture of that day – it is not wise to allow their education to be shaped by graphic news clips. Turn off the T.V. or computer, and sit down with them to talk.
Be Aware of Your Child’s Developmental Stage
Younger children will have a very different understanding of tragedy and heroics than older children. Part of the story of 9/11 involves the death of eight children, and the loss of a parent by over 3,000 children. Comprehension of the immense heartache of this day will vary tremendously, depending on the age and developmental stage of your child. In our post on Helping Children Cope With Death, we explore the specific strengths and peculiarities of each stage. For many young children, it is not necessary (and often inappropriate) to offer details when discussing a terrifying event. A teenage child, on the other hand, may not only want to know details (such as ages of victims, names of rescuers, the healing process, etc.), but may actually recall the day and want to talk at length about their memories. No matter the age of the child you are talking with, keep these major points on the table:
- We are not in imminent danger. Our nation grew stronger as a result of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Security measures and defense protocols have dramatically changed since that day, and we are safer because of it.
- Our emotional reactions and memories (adults) are not the same as our children’s. Refrain from imposing your mindset on them, but rather, allow them to show you how they are processing the day.
- Be open to a conversation even when you do not have answers, but do not impose the topic if your child is uninterested.
Be Aware of the Historical Event
If you have upper-elementary or high school students in your care, they will likely be exposed to the story of 9/11. Prepare your heart and mind with facts (stories tend to exaggerate or distort over time).
- September 11, 2001 – the day that the World Trade Center towers (NYC), the Pentagon (D.C.), and a fourth plane that crashed in rural PA, were attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists.
- 3,000 – the approximate number of people who died as a result.
- 20 – the percentage of Americans who lost a friend or loved one in the attack.
- $500 million – The approximate amount of money raised for NYPD and FDNY families.
- 2,343 – number of emergency responders, city employees, and military men and women who bravely gave their lives in efforts to rescue the victims and capture the perpetrators.
- 4 – the number of people (3 men, 1 woman) who were recorded from inside the airplane as they planned to sacrifice their lives to disable the terrorists on board United Flight 93. They were successful.
Focus on Hope
Children have an innate sense of hope in things unseen. When opportunities like our story of 9/11 present themselves, we have an impetus to fill their minds with productive, empowering thoughts.
Evil actions by wayward characters have been lurking in our midst since the beginning of time. Wherever there have been cowardly antics of hate-fueled rebels, there have also been the overpowering efforts of love-filled heroes.
It is said that no one loves greater than the one who gives his life to save another’s.
The account of September 11, 2001, is dotted with a few fear-maimed plots, intent on ruining hope. It is also lined with verse upon verse of brave names, intent on fighting for hope. God tells us that hope is worth fighting for and that it will not disappoint. Our heroes did not die in vain like those terrorists. The greater love has shown up since the very beginning. It will show up again.
- How do you expect your children to interact with the 9/11 tributes?
- Will you plan to talk to your child/children about 9/11?
- How does this national day of remembrance affect you, as a parent or caregiver?
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