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Talking to Your Kids About 9/11

With all the widespread coverage the 10th anniversary of 9/11 has had, it's hard to avoid those tough questions.

I was feeling rather melancholy yesterday. I am guessing many of you were, too. I started the day watching a heart-wrenching  9/11 tribute a friend had posted on Facebook. At church we attended a beautiful homecoming service with some moving music and contemporary dancing that had me shed a tear or two more than once. I wasn’t the only one. I have been watching on TV and reading about the tributes at Ground Zero all week and, like many, can’t believe it was 10 years ago as, in many ways, it feels like only yesterday.

On our way to the service, we passed our neighbor's house, where they had put up three American flags to recognize the day and when Noelle (5) saw them, she asked me why they were there. I could have made something up, claimed ignorance or could have tried to change the subject, but I try to answer any questions my children ask me with honest, age-appropriate answers. I hesitated though.

How do I explain the events of 9/11, to a five-year-old? What was age-appropriate with this subject. I didn’t do too well. I mumbled something about bad people wanting to hurt the people in America so they made some buildings in New York City fall down and it was a sad day for everyone so they wanted to fly flags to remember the people who were hurt. She asked me if anyone died. I told her yes and she said, ‘Now I am sad for the people, too.’
Thankfully she didn’t ask me any more about it. I am not sure what I would have said.

Doreen Currie September 12, 2011 at 12:18 PM
My kids were 6 and 4 when it happened, I was in the same dilemma. The TV and radio coverage was 24/7 so we knew we had to tell our oldest as soon as possible. We pretty much told her the same thing you told Noelle. I did not tell her that they used planes to bring down the World Trade Center, we are from Scotland and we have to get on a plane to go visit family, and they all fly over to visit us. I did not want her to be terrified of flying. My youngest turned 4 the day after so I really did not tell her anything at the time, it was only as each anniversary came around we gave a little more information each time. I think it's best to use the tactic of telling them enough to satisfy curiosity at the time. We need our children to feel safe and protected so maybe telling them everything when they are young will only terrify them.
Michelle Petroccio September 12, 2011 at 02:58 PM
My children were very young when this cruel act took place against the United States. My youngest son was only 10 months old, my daughter was 2, and the others were 4 and 6. I was at a pre-school orientation and had no idea what had happened until I began driving towards home. It was a strange day, there was noone on I95, and then it came over the radio. Fear completely over took me. My husband was working in New York. I couldn't reach him by phone at his office, by cell phone or by beeper. I had no idea what to say to my children. I went to my oldest son's school which was in lockdown, showed ID and took him with me. I went to my moother's house with the kids, and sat down with them as I explained plainly that planes had been purposely crashed into buildings in New York, and that telephone and cell service couldn't work so I could call their daddy. I assured them he was safe, not knowing if he was or not. I never went into any other details that day with them, until the evening when my husband came home safely, and I let them watch it all on TV. Now that they are older, we talk openly about it. Every year we commemorate 911, and they fully understand what took place. Their love and appreciation for being American citizens runs deep.
Heather Brooke September 12, 2011 at 08:50 PM
I think you did as well as one could, Anna. Hunter was 14 and Chandler was 11 when it happened and they watched the coverage in school. We discussed how sad we all were and how frightened -- that was the most difficult part of it then, telling the kids that we were scared too and not really being able to reassure them. We just emphasized that we loved them and we were there for them. I wonder how people handled discussing Pearl Harbor with children. I will ask my mom what she remembers from when she was a child. She was born in July of 1941, so she was probably about Noelle's age wondering the same thing during all those anniversary ceremonies.

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