Like most who lived through that day, I remember exactly where I was when I first realized the horror of what was happening on September 11, 2001. Though I was 5,000 miles away in rural Alaska, my heart was right there with the terrified faces endlessly splashed on the screen that day and for weeks to follow.
My son was born over a decade after 9/11 and for the most part, he was shielded from the worst of that day. But now that he’s 11, he has more awareness. He wonders why people are still so traumatized when it happened so long ago. His questions made me realize that in my attempt to protect him, I inadvertently created a situation where he can’t relate to the collective trauma of those who lived through it, whether first hand or watching from afar.
I realized that it was time to begin an age-appropriate conversation about what happened that day, what came in the months and years that followed and how our lives continue to be affected 22 years later.
I understand the challenges parents face when navigating sensitive topics. It’s easy to feel out of our depth when we’re dealing with so many crucial conversations with our tweens and teens. It’s essential to approach this conversation with empathy, honesty and age-appropriate information. I hope these ideas for talking with kids about September 11 will be useful to you.
Tips for Talking with Kids about September 11
Choose the Right Moment
Find a quiet, comfortable setting where you can have an open conversation without interruptions. Make sure your child feels safe to express their feelings.
Start with Their Questions
Begin by asking what your child knows about 9/11. This allows you to gauge their understanding and correct any misconceptions.
Be Honest but Consider Their Age
Tailor your explanation to their age and emotional maturity. Use simple language to explain the basics of the event without overwhelming details.
Focus on Feelings
Emphasize the emotions that people experienced during and after 9/11, such as fear, sadness and unity. This helps your child empathize with the historical context.
Share Stories of Resilience
When talking to kids about September 11, highlight stories of bravery, compassion and community support that emerged in the aftermath. These stories can inspire a sense of hope.
When I worked in a children’s library, one of the most popular series was I Survived, by Lauren Tarshis. Available as both chapter books and graphic novels, her stories weave facts about historical events with fictional character accounts and really grab the reader’s attention. Her entry about 9/11 might answer questions your child has as well as spark new ones.
Address Safety Concerns
Reassure your child about their safety and explain how society has taken measures to prevent similar events. Focus on the positive changes that have occurred since then.
Let your child know that it’s okay to ask questions, even if you don’t have all the answers. Research together to find accurate information.
Use Age-Appropriate Resources
If your child wants to learn more, recommend age-appropriate books, documentaries or online resources that provide accurate information about 9/11. This curriculum offered by Scholastic has free materials about 9/11, appropriate for grades 3-8.
Discuss Diversity and Tolerance
Use this conversation as an opportunity to talk about cultural diversity, tolerance and the importance of treating everyone with respect. Consider volunteering to broaden your family’s awareness of other cultures within your community.
Reflect on Values
Discuss the values your family holds, such as empathy, kindness and understanding. Connect these values to the stories you’ve shared about 9/11.
Maintain Open Communication
Let your child know that they can always come to you with questions or concerns. Keep the conversation ongoing as their understanding deepens.
Remember, every child processes information differently, so be prepared for a range of emotions and responses when talking with kids about September 11. By approaching the topic with sensitivity and understanding, you’ll create a safe space for your child to learn about a significant moment in history while fostering their emotional growth.