As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, many parents are thinking: what do I say to my children? That day was a terrifying and defining moment for us—and yet for our children, unless they are in their late teens, its meaning may be fuzzy or nonexistent.
How you remember 9/11 with your children is ultimately going to depend on your experience of it—and on your particular values and family. But here are some suggestions to help you navigate this difficult anniversary with your children.
• Limit the media exposure, especially any graphic footage, if your children are young. They aren’t going to understand it, and it will scare them. My daughter Elsa was four on 9/11, and we were so stunned by events that we kept the TV on without thinking about it…only to find out that Elsa thought that each time she saw the planes hit the towers it was happening in yet another city. She figured it was just a matter of time until they hit our town. She was really frightened.
• Do some thinking ahead of time about what you want your messaging about 9/11 to be. As I said above, ultimately this is going to depend on your children, your experience and your values. But it’s good to think about that, talk with your partner, and come up with what you’d like to say. It will make the day easier if you’re not stammering and looking for words.
• When you talk about 9/11, stress the helpers and brave people. Talk about the firefighters and police and all the ordinary people who did incredible things that day. There are so many amazing stories. Use it as an opportunity to teach your children about how anyone can be a hero, and how helping others is what really matters.
• Talk about people who have moved forward and rebuilt their lives since 9/11. This helps to introduce the idea of resilience—and shows that there is always hope, even after something as devastating as that day.
• Spend time together as a family. Celebrate what you have; none of us do that nearly enough. Use it as a chance to teach gratitude; that’s a wonderful gift for your children.
Here are some resources that may be helpful:
From the 911memorial.org: “Talking to your children about 9/11”
From the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Kids Will Be Thinking about 9/11: How to Help Them”
From 9-11 Heroes, a nice site that has memorials and stories about heroes not just from 9/11, “How to talk to kids about war and terrorism.”