Recalling the heartbreaking events that took place on September 11, 2001 is likely painful for an adult to do. And trying to explain this dark day in America’s history to a child can be extremely difficult.
It’s important to be prepared for a conversation with your child about 9/11. Even if you don’t initiate the discussion, kids are likely going to have questions about the day when they hear about in school and among their peers.
With younger children, you’ll want to tread lightly with the topic and keep graphic details and complex ideas out of the conversation. As children grow, you can begin to introduce more details, while still choosing how much you feel your child should know.
Over the years since 9/11, much information has come to light regarding the day’s events, from general facts to heartbreaking phone calls from those trapped in the twin towers and on hijacked planes. There have also been many oral recounts from those who survived the horrific terrorist attacks.
When talking about days as intense and complex as 9/11, prepare for follow-up questions to be asked by your children, some of which you may not be able to fully answer.
Here are tips for how to approach a conversation about 9/11 with your child.
- Gauge a child’s knowledge
- Keep age in mind
- Use lesson plans
- Encourage your child to talk to someone who remembers
- Read stories with children from survivors or family, friends of those who lost lives
- Take your child to pay respects at a 9/11 memorial site
1. Gauge a child’s knowledge
Before getting into any details, start with the question, “What do you know about 9/11?” This will allow you to get a handle on what they already know from school or from what they have heard.
Be prepared for them to share information they “know” that isn’t factual, so make that distinction with your child and clear up any misconceptions they may have.
It’s possible that your children will know very little about 9/11, especially if they are very young. On the other hand, they may know more than expected. Regardless, understanding their knowledge of the events can help you best inform them about this tragic event.
2. Keep age in mind
The conversation parents have with their children is going to look very different based on the age of the child.
If your child is very young, for example around preschool age, you’ll want to keep your teaching very simple, and steer clear of complex details.
As kids get older, they will be exposed to more about the tragedy. As they grow, you can also ask them more about their feelings and thoughts, and help them to cope with what they may feel or question.
3. Use lesson plans
There are many lesson plans available online that assist in educating kids about 9/11. Consider watching these lesson plans on your own first, and then re-watching them with your child.
The 9/11 Memorial & Museum has lesson plans available that are separated by grade level and theme.
Lesson plans can be a great way to start learning about the history of 9/11 and how it still impacts us today. You may even learn some new things yourself.
4. Encourage your child to talk to someone who remembers
Today’s young parents may not remember the events of the day well. Some may not remember it at all.
If you’d like for your children to learn about the events of 9/11, encourage them to talk with someone who does remember. Maybe your memories simply include where you were and how you felt. While it may not seem like much, that alone can still be beneficial to a child’s understanding of the horrendous day in our nation’s history.
If you can’t recall that information for your children, help connect them with someone who can, such as a grandparent, great-grandparent, or someone else who can offer a first-hand account of the day.
5. Read stories with children from survivors or family, friends of those who lost lives
There are stories online from 9/11 survivors who tell the details of what they faced on that day. While some are very detailed and should be read with a parent’s discretion or saved for elder children, these accounts are extremely powerful in telling a tragic, dark story in America’s history.
While the facts are critical, it is just as important to teach emotions and empathy surrounding September 11, 2001. The fear, heartbreak, heroism and patriotism felt across the nation from the perspective of survivors and those that remember is equally important. Some escaped themselves and some were heroically saved by first responders who sacrificed their lives that day.
Allow children to hear oral recounts of the events that day for informative and emotional education.
6. Take your child to pay respects at a 9/11 memorial site
There are over 1,000 memorials around the U.S. dedicated to the lives lost on 9/11. This will be a somber experience for your child, but can serve as a way to educate.
If there is a memorial site or museum nearby, consider taking your child. If you’re unable to visit a physical site, show your child a few of the memorials online. Visuals will likely spark questions.
Read about the architecture and reason for design alongside them. There is a deeper meaning behind the design of each memorial.