Talking to your kids about Sept. 11
Editor’s note: This post originally was published Sept. 1, 2011.
As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, many adults and older children and teens may experience heightened emotions. We know there will be a great deal of media coverage before and on Sept. 11 this year, with pictures and video replayed over and over.
Children who were born after 2001, or were just toddlers at that time, may be frightened by the images in the media. They will not know that what they are seeing on their TV screens and hearing adults talk about happened years ago – they will likely think this is happening now.
We asked one of our child life specialists for tips on talking with children about these images and the event, and for providing them with the sense of safety and trust they need.
- Reassure them that you love them and will do all that you can to keep them safe.
- Limit television viewing before and on Sept. 11.
- Remind children that what they are viewing is something that happened in the past. Children as old as age 6 may believe what they’re viewing is happening right now. They need you to assure them that the attacks are not occurring as they watch TV
- Acknowledge their fear and take it seriously. Don’t try to talk children out of their fears – talk about them instead, clarifying misunderstandings, answering questions.
- Understand that reactions will vary depending on age. Younger children are affected by the emotional reactions of adults as well as to visual images; older children may need to talk about what happened and how they feel about it.
- Answer their questions directly. Don’t give more information than they are asking for, but don’t be afraid to share the truth and talk about it with them.
- Encourage them to express their feelings – sadness for the people who were killed, worry about what may happen now, happiness about the way people have reached out to help one another, etc. Talking, writing, drawing, playing are all ways children express themselves and thus gain a sense of control in their lives.
- Remember the value of kind and loving touch. An extra hug, kiss, shoulder rub, time on a parent’s lap or snuggling in bed or on the couch can have a big impact on a child’s sense of security
- Again, limit the amount of news coverage and special “anniversary coverage” children watch. Limit other violent TV shows. Protect them by watching a video, looking for a non-Sept.11 related program, or turning off the TV and playing a game, reading a book, or taking a walk or wagon ride instead