My daughters, who are 7 and 8 years old, learned about 9/11 this past summer.
I wasn’t intending to talk about it just then, but it was a plot point in a book we were reading, and so we discussed it.
The girls learned that 16 years ago, bad men flew planes into buildings and a lot of people died. They learned that yes, Mommy and Daddy were alive when this happened, and we remember every moment of it. They learned that it was a scary and sad time for our country, and that we hope it never, ever happens again.
Fortunately, they didn’t ask the big Why questions, and I didn’t offer up any answers. I know we’ll get to those soon enough, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to share these stories with them one piece at a time. They asked if they were safe now, and I said they were, and then we went back to our book.
As I write this post, parents across the country are talking to their children about anything from 9/11 to hurricanes to constantly shifting, and often upsetting, political news. Here are a few ideas for how to have these conversations:
- Don’t blow your kids off or ignore their questions. If it’s not an appropriate time to discuss the issue, tell your kids that and be sure to come back to it later.
- Be honest and tell the truth. If you get in the habit of misrepresenting what actually happened, eventually your kids will learn that you’re not a good source of information, and they’ll seek it elsewhere.
- It’s ok to say “I don’t know,” when you don’t know. You won’t undermine yourself, and you’ll be modeling an important life skill for your children.
- Stay focused on answering the questions they’re asking. We adults are walking around with mental file cabinets full of memories, theories, speculation, and information. Your kids aren’t asking for all of that, so don’t overwhelm them with it. Listen to their questions carefully, and do your best to answer just those questions.
- Let them feel their big feelings. If your kids feel scared or angry or sad or anxious, that’s ok. This stuff is hard for all of us. Help them name their feelings, and let them know it’s normal for them to feel that way.
- Take care of yourself. 9/11 was a terrible day for all of us, but for some of us, it was absolutely devastating. Any of the difficult experiences we discuss with our children may end up triggering us in ways we weren’t expecting, so notice how you’re feeling and give yourself a break: go for a walk, listen to some music, turn off the damn news, snuggle your kiddo, or get some sleep – whatever works for you.
And to all those who died on 9/11, and to those they left behind – we remember you, and we’ll make sure the next generation remembers you, too.