How to Talk to Your Kids about September 11th
by Justina Bahrain
September 11th is a date none of us will forget but that many of our children know little about. That day and its aftermath are important parts of our history that we want to share with our children but may hesitate to do since it is a scary thought for adults let alone the delicate minds of our children. Here are some tips to help ease the conversation.
1) Watch an age appropriate program or read an age appropriate book about 9/11 (there are no child-geared programs that I am aware of so a part of a documentary or news clip that has minimal to no violence would be a good idea). Let your children ask questions and encourage them to answer and work through their thoughts about what they are seeing.
2) Let your children see your true emotion while watching the program/reading books/talking about 9/11. If you feel like crying, cry. If you feel angered, express that. It is important for your children to see that tragedy evokes a variety of emotions and feelings, all of which are ok. Sometimes it is hard for children to read the emotions of others so say out loud how you feel; “I’m saddened by these images and angered by the lives lost.
3) It is equally as important that your children see you resolve these emotions. If you need a minute to yourself, explain that either before or after you do so. Let your children see you cry and then stop crying, and then feel angry, then sad. Let them see the roller coaster of emotions that is 9/11 and let them see that you are alright at the end of the day. That we are alright at the end of the day.
4) Assure your kids that any and all feelings surrounding 9/11 are acceptable as is having them change. No feelings are wrong and no questions are off limits.
5) Don’t get discouraged or frustrated if your children show little to no emotion or have a mild reaction to your discussion. Your kids absolutely took it all in, it just may take time for them to ask questions or feel their feelings. Remind them that they can talk to you about it anytime, certainly after the day has passed.
6) Keep an eye out for changes in behavior. This could be a sign that your discussion, what they saw, or heard is weighing on them but they don’t know how to express it verbally or are unaware how much it is affecting them.
7) Be prepared, this will come up again and when you least expect it. Your kids may hear about another tragedy, see an accident on the side of the road, conjure up more questions or worries which may come pouring out weeks later.
8) Emphasize the empathy. Point out the helpers; explain the ways in which not only our police, firefighters, first responders, and military helped but how civilians pulled together and helped one another and show support. Ask your children how they would help or show support.
9) Help your children feel like supporters and therefore not helpless. Have then write a letter to your local fire or police dept or the FDNY/NYPD, send a care package to a service member overseas or a wounded warrior.
10) Help your children resolve their feelings by writing their own story about what they saw/heard/discussed; there is catharsis in providing tragedy with a narrative. Simply bind together a few pieces of paper, provide a bunch of supplies (pencils, markers, crayons, stickers) and allow them time to create. If your child cannot write yet, ask them what they want written on each page and write it for them. Read through the story together.
There are many ways to talk to your children about 9/11, what are yours?
This article first appeared in The Havok Journal September 10, 2018.
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