Remembering, not reliving, the past: Strategies to talk with children about 9/11

September 11, 2001 greatly affected America. As we approach the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist acts, learn strategies to talk to youth in an appropriate way.

Many of us remember exactly where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001 at 8:45 a.m. It is a moment in history that is engrained in each one of our lives. However, as time passes and we remember the events of that horrific day, our children, who very likely were not born or were not old enough to realize what was happening, experience it with us through various media sources each year as we honor those who lost their lives and the ordinary people who acted so heroically.

Around the anniversary of 9/11, there will likely be in-depth images and accounts bombarding the various media outlets with details of the events that took place that dreadful day. Parents can talk about the events with their children in a constructive way that allows children to feel safe while helping them understand and remember the significance of the event.

First, listen to your child if they want to talk. Actively listen to their thoughts, paying attention to their body language; validate their emotions and encourage respectful conversation and discussions about the events of that day. If they don’t feel like talking, don’t force them to, but continue to check in and let them know you are ready to listen if they want to talk.

Second, answer questions with facts. Time has healed many of the wounds that the attacks left on us. When talking with kids, point to reliable and credible sources for facts. We all individually have our own memories of that day; however they may prove to be too jaded by our own perceptions. Resources, such as lesson plans, fact sheets and talking points can be found on the 9/11 Memorial website and can help parents, teachers and caregivers provide accurate information in an age-appropriate way.

Third, monitor the television and internet around the anniversary of 9/11. Some of the images may not be appropriate for children to view. Parents must decide what information their child is ready for and then be actively involved in the quality and amount of information their child receives.

Lastly, it is important to communicate hope. Although the attacks were horrible, the acts of heroism from ordinary people have sparked hope that our society can unify for the good of our people. The story of neighbors helping neighbors, regardless of race, religion or social status highlights that we are all Americans and we all can make a difference in one another’s lives – that is what makes us great. It is important that we remember, not relive that single day that changed our lives forever.

For more information about Michigan 4-H Youth Development Programs, visit the Michigan 4-H website.

For more articles on child development, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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