With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 just around the corner, many parents are doubtless thinking about ways to explain this horrific event to their young children. Some of our children were too young to remember the actual attacks, while others weren't even born when they occurred. The media will be showing images and footage from that terrible day over and over in the coming days, and our children will be exposed to the coverage, so it's important to prepare for their questions.
Before that happens, we need to reflect on our own feelings and prepare ourselves to deal with those of our children. Children are very perceptive and if they sense that their parents are upset or worried, they will be too. Children who had direct experience with the events of 9/11--due to having been in New York or Washington, or having had a family member who was present or killed--may experience increased anxiety because of the renewed media coverage. However, increased sensitivity and open communication with kids can help reduce their anxiety, and will help turn this weekend's collective remembrance into a positive learning experience for all our children.
To help you prepare for your children's exposure to a seemingly nonstop 9/11 history lesson, here are some tips to take to heart:
Be selective in your media consumption - Don’t watch coverage of the anniversary with young children in the room. Children under the age of 6 are especially vulnerable to fear that might result from exposure to this coverage. The images may be too scary and too difficult for them to process at this age.
Be available to explain the images and coverage - A parent should be available to talk about what kids are seeing and hearing, and how it makes them feel. They will have lots of questions at this age and they will need to be answered, age-appropriately.
Take the time to talk - Teens and pre-teens should be given the opportunity to talk about their feelings. It is important that parents create a safe environment for the teens to express their concerns and be heard.
Do not avoid the topic - Avoidance may create more anxiety by reinforcing the idea that the events were too scary to talk about.
Be sensitive - Throughout the next several weeks be aware of any behavioral or mood changes. Children express themselves verbally and through their actions. If their behavior changes, talk to them about what is bothering them and help them through it. If you are unable to do this by yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional.
Reinforce feelings of safety and security - This is a good opportunity to discuss your family's safety plans. With the 9/11 anniversary falling so soon after both an earthquake and a hurricane, a discussion of disaster preparedness will be very timely. How your family handled both of these events could be a good stepping stone to explaining to your child that you are prepared in the event of an emergency.
Create understanding - It is important that children understand that actions are being taken to reduce the risk of anything like 9/11 happening again. For example, if you have recently traveled by air, using the safety procedures you experienced at the airport can be a good, non-threatening example of how we are making changes to ensure safety.
Take action - For many of us, the best way to handle a crisis is to take action. This is a good time to talk to your children about community service and volunteerism. Talk to them about the people who help in an emergency. Your children can write thank you letters, send them a picture, or plant a victory garden.
Be part of the solution - This is a great opportunity to address the issues of tolerance, respect and patriotism. These positive traits will help our children become part of the solution, and not part of the problem.
However you choose to commemorate the anniversary of September 11, the most important tip to remember is to keep the lines of communication open with your children. As parents, we need to listen to their concerns and answer them honestly and age-appropriately.
For more information on how to talk to your children about September 11, go to NickNews.com for a special with Linda Ellerbee on how to talk to kids ages 6 to 14.
The American Psychological Association’s website also includes several helpful articles for children and adults about dealing with 9/11. And, as always, if you feel your child needs more help than you can give, don’t hesitate to contact your school counselor, family physician, or a mental health professional.