Kids. 9/11. Questions. As parents, how do we help them deal? 

September 14, 2011

Last week our country faced the traumatic memories of 9/11. A decade after the terrorist attacks that day, millions of children – many of them not even born in 2001 – also had to see images of the attacks, talk about it in their classrooms and hear stories of those who lived through the devastation. As parents, many of us continue to struggle with our own feelings about that day. And now we have children asking us questions, feeling scared and vulnerable, or just confused about recent history.

How do we respond?

The most important thing is that we DO respond. Talk openly with your kids about how they feel. Ask them what they already know and what they’ve heard from friends. There are some fantastic resources available to help families talk about 9/11:

  • One of the best is a document produced through a collaboration of the American Psychological Association and NickNews (of children’s TV station Nickelodeon). Their “What Happened? The Story of September 11, 2001” booklet offers 20 pages of worksheets, children’s activities and resources to help kids learn about the facts, address their feelings about what happened and take action to be both safe and productive as a healthy response to those feelings. They also offer a wonderful video (click on the image above to watch the 22 minute video, but first a disclaimer: it does include advertisements).
  • Sesame Street’s “You Can Ask” project was developed in response to 9/11 as well. It’s an online toolkit – including videos of Sesame Street characters experiencing difficult events – to help families create dialogue with their children about fear, anxiety and shock.
  • SCAN’s Parent Resource Center also provides a fact sheet on Helping Children Deal with Trauma (in English and Spanish!). Here you’ll find tips for talking about sensitive subjects with children at different ages, as well as steps to help you and your child deal with difficult subjects.

Unfortunately, bad things do happen during every childhood. And we can’t always protect our children from the details or the fear that may accompany those events. From extreme weather to a death in the family to a historic attack, parents need to be ready to respond in a positive way when kids ask questions about a wide range of traumatic events. There is support out there! Reach out for your own support during difficult times, arm yourself with tools and do the best you can.