If you were alive during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, there's no doubt you remember everything about that day. From the cloudless blue sky, to the chaos that erupted on sidewalks across the country, to the phone lines being so busy that you couldn't reach your loved ones, the events of that day are cemented in our collective consciousness. But what about the generation of Americans who weren't born yet? As parents, teachers, mentors, and anyone who is close to children, it's important to learn how to explain 9/11 to a child who wasn't alive at the time.
With the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11 coming up, now is the perfect time to talk to your kids about what happened that day, and how the attacks changed the world for everyone. Time suggested you set aside some time when you won't be interrupted and when you're confident enough to be direct and honest, without being graphic.
No matter how you've healed in the years since the attacks, you know in your gut that this is something you need to speak to your children about. But it's perfectly OK to have trepidations about what to say, or how to say it. The following are suggestions on how to explain 9/11 to young people, because it is still a tender topic for many people.
1Ask What They Know About 9/11
According to PBS, you might start a conversation about 9/11 by asking what your child knows and what other kids at school are saying about the events that happened on Sept. 11. You might also be surprised what your kid has picked up from the news. So, it's always a good idea to begin a conversation with your child by seeing what they already know, which might be more than you think.
Of course, knowing and understanding are two very different things. The same PBS article suggested asking, "What did you hear?" and taking the conversation from there, being sure to make sure your child feels comfortable in your discussion.
2Use A Book
One way to help your child feel comfortable discussing such a troubling topic is to read a story book. One of the many 9/11 children books is America Is Under Attack, written and illustrated by Don Brown, a Long Islander who dedicates the book to the 13 neighbors his town lost that day. Brown noted that the book is for young readers and explains what happened without the intention of frightening them. This book is for children grades one through five.
3Take Kids To The Memorial Museum
Whether you live in New York or want to make a pilgrimage to the Big Apple, the 9/11 Memorial Museum tells the story of what happened that day with a variety of exhibits. Although most of the museum is open to all, there are some exhibits suggested for children aged 10 and up.
PBS collected artwork made by kids in response to 9/11. Some of the images will break your heart, while others will give you insight into how the innocent minds of children process trauma and tragedy. Suzanne Silverstein, president and co-founder of the Psychological Trauma Center at Cedars-Sinai told National Geographic that encouraging kids to draw helps them express feelings of they might not be able to put into words.
5Don't Mince Words
Dr. Robin Goodman, executive director and program director of A Caring Hand, The Billy Esposito Foundation and Bereavement Program told CBS that you shouldn't mince words when talking about 9/11 to kids. "Parents naturally want to protect their children from sad and scary things and experiences, but it is not necessarily in their best interest," she said. "Children do best when parents help them feel informed and prepared for what they will encounter in life — good and bad."
6Use Simple Language
Richard Rende, an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, explained to Time that you should be honest without being graphic. Rather than saying people plummeted from the Twin Towers to their deaths, just explain that people were trapped, and they decided to jump.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum suggested that you use prayer as a way to explain what happened that day. In the midst of the evil and tragedy, there was also a tremendous outpouring of empathy, as people rallied to help. This sends the message of hope about people, a common thread of religion, regardless of your faith.
According to The Federalist, talking to kids who weren't alive at the time about 9/11 is difficult because you will have to explain that evil exists in the real world, and not just in storybooks. Bre Payton, who wrote the article, noted that her mom "explained who the bad guys were, what terrorism was, and why they hated Americans." Payton concluded that it's important to discuss evil because the consequences of the evil perpetrated that day are too severe to ignore.
9Talk About Heroes
As everyone knows, the attacks on Sept. 11 brought out heroics in the first responders and search and rescue teams, as well as the Red Cross workers and scores of volunteers who rushed to the scene to help. In addition to the New York City firefighters, New York City police officers, search and rescue service workers, Today reported there were 300 rescue dogs who worked the scene to identify victims and served as therapy dogs for the traumatized rescue workers. Psychologist Dr. Sherrie Campbell told The Huffington Post that when kids hear about real-life heroes, even furry, four-legged ones, they can develop ideas about what their capabilities can be.
10Explain Why You're Proud To Be An American
Putting aside all the things that this country can improve upon, the events of 9/11 inspired pride in many Americans. After all, the country rallied to help people in crisis, which is always something to be proud of. Discuss the reasons you're proud to be an American, which the organization Debate.org noted can include many factors.
11Discourage Any Form Of Bigotry
When people learned that the terrorist group al Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, bigotry against the Muslim and Middle Eastern community in America was rampant. The Daily Beast reported that even 13 years after the attacks, reports of discrimination, violence, and ignorant bigotry against Muslims and Middle Eastern Americans was still high. This can happen at school, where kids can be unusually cruel to one another when the teacher is turned away. Make sure you kid knows how short-sighted and evil any form of bigotry is.
12Ask If They Have Any Questions
It's vital to listen to what kids have to say about 9/11. But bearing in mind that kids don't process information like adults, after you've listened to what they have to say, be sure to follow up with your own set of questions, noted The National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement.
13Assure Them They Are Safe
Conclude your 9/11 talk by assuring your kid he or she is safe. After hearing disturbing news like what happened that day, it's only normal for kids to feel insecure. However, according to Parenting, the best thing you can do is to make sure your child feels safe in his or her environment. Listen to your kid's worries and don't belittle them. That's one of your jobs as a parent, regardless of what happens in the world around you.