Talking to Children about 9/11

Today, people across the United States are remembering the tragic events that took place 15 years ago.  Every September 11th, we remember exactly where we were when we learned about the devastating news.  For me, I was a teenager in my high school cafeteria.  I remember feeling confused and not knowing what to say or do at the time.  The staff and students at my high school looked to each other for support and reassurance.  As the years pass, I notice that those feelings still stay with me, particularly when watching the tributes of those killed in the attacks.

A few months ago, I visited the 9/11 memorial for the first time.  The weather was overcast.  I was surprised at how img_3665quiet it was considering the fact that it is right in Manhattan.  I found it beautiful and surprisingly serene.  I was able to physically touch the etched names of those who died on that day.  I was able to observe the various emotions of those with whom I shared this space.  Some seemed to be tourists interested in learning more about the tragedy, likely from all over the world, while others clearly had a personal reason for being there.  There were people of all races and ethnicities, but what got me thinking the most, was the varying ages of those present.

Working with so many young people, I have to remind myself that not everyone has a memory of September 11th, 2001.  Many of them have grown up participating in moments of silence in their schools, reading about the events in textbooks, and watching documentaries, but how does it affect them?  What are they thinking about? Do they have questions?  How do you initiate the conversation?

The 9/11 Memorial website has a very informative document on this subject.  If you are not entirely sure about how to address this topic with children, I highly recommend it.  Click here to access it.  Additionally, this website provides useful tips for adults in preparing for these conversations.

As a clinical social worker, one of the points that really stood out to me was reminding people to be mindful of their own emotions before talking to children.  Be patient.  Remember, since many of our young people do not have a memory of this day, their reactions may not be what you expect.  A article indicated that “one out of five Americans weren’t born the day of the terror attacks.”  That’s a staggering number.  The most important thing that you can do is be honest, provide age appropriate facts, validate their feelings, and listen.

Today is a tough day for many.  Be good to each other. Be kind to each other. Never forget.