How to Talk to Your Kids About 9/11
1. Make yourself available.
"Some kids are going to want to talk about 9/11, and others won't. Both reactions are OK," says Dr. Pulido. "What your children need to hear is that you're ready and willing to answer their questions or curiosities." When they do come to you to talk (or if you sense that they want to chat but haven't approached you), find out what they actually know and have heard before offering explanations. For example, Dr. Pulido suggests asking questions like: "Why do you think we're remembering the anniversary of September 11th?" and "What do you want to know about 9/11?" If they're old enough to recall the disaster, ask: "What do you remember about that day?" All of these questions will help you better understand what your kids have heard about the tragedy; if the information that they have is "inaccurate or not age appropriate, you'll want to straighten out the facts."
2. Stick to the facts.
With very young children, you don't need to pretend that 9/11 didn't happen, but you also don't need to go into graphic detail about it. Dr. Pulido suggests explaining it as such: "There were people who didn't like America and they wanted to hurt us so they flew a plane into a building and tried to scare everyone. Many people died and it was a very sad day for everyone." Let them know that it's OK to feel sad about 9/11 and that you're proud of them for wanting to talk about it. If your kids are older, depending on their maturity level and what they ask, you can go into more detail. "Kids may ask what happened to all the people that died, and that turns it into a much bigger conversation." Since this discussion will likely bring up questions about death and dying, parents should be prepared to discuss those topics as well.
3. Let your kids know that they're going to be OK.
"Most kids want to know the bottom line," says Dr. Pulido. "'Am I going to be OK?' 'Are mom and dad going to be OK?'" As a parent, it's your job to reassure them. "Say something like, 'From the President of the United States to our local policemen to your mom and dad, everyone is working very, very hard to keep you safe.'" Explain to them that terrorists are a minority in the world, and that there are many more people who are working hard to keep everyone out of harm's way. This is also a good time to discuss your family's emergency preparedness plan: Do you have safety measures in place in the event of a hurricane or tornado? Do your kids know who to call if they become separated from you during an emergency? Do they know how to call 911 if they need to?
4. Don't use TV coverage to illustrate your conversation.
Dr. Pulido discourages children younger than 8 from watching TV coverage of September 11th. "I think that they're too young to distinguish what's real from what's not, and they may think that it's happening again. I would change the channel; the images are just too graphic." With older children who may have memories of 9/11, watch the coverage alongside them so that you can answer any questions they might have. But don't dwell on endless loops of images: Encourage them to hang out with friends or watch a comedy afterwards so they don't become obsessed with the event.
5. Emphasize patriotism.
An uplifting way to end a conversation about 9/11 is to talk about the heroes of the day. "You need to balance the bad with a little bit of good," says Dr. Pulido. "Talk about the firemen, policemen and first responders who acted bravely on 9/11, as well as how patriotism was at an all-time high and communities came together to comfort one another." Focus on the kindness and support that everyone gave each other after September 11th to prevent the conversation from ending on a somber note.
Video: How to Talk to Your Child: The Best Strategies for Effective Communication
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