Expert Advice on Explaining 9/11 to Your Kid

9/11My daughter was 100 days old on September 11, 2001. I remember because we were planning to go out to a Korean restaurant that night with family and friends to celebrate (a traditional Korean custom). We lived in Chelsea at the time, over 20 blocks north of the World Trade Center.

We didn't go out to dinner that night. By the time evening fell, the streets were empty. That image still haunts me -- the streets of NYC were empty.

I told my daughter about the empty streets the other day when she asked me the inevitable question: "What was it like?" Her eyes widened. "Empty?"

Explaining to my kids what the city looked like and felt like on that day is easy compared to answering the question of "Why did the terrorists attack?"

For help with that one, I consulted Marie Kieran, PhD, a child psychologist who specializes in helping kids cope with traumatic experiences.

Here's what she told me:

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Be honest. "Tell them the truth when they ask you questions," says KIeran. "That doesn't mean you have to give kids all the gory details; you can keep it brief. But you don't want to make anything up, even if you think your version won't be as traumatic as the real thing ... at some point, they will find out what really happened."

Use easy-to-understand words. "Don't bother trying to explain the politics of 9/11 or what Osama Bin Laden stood for or any of that. Your kids will just be confused. If they ask why we were attacked, you can talk about how there were people who wanted to hurt us because we didn't believe in what they believed in, and how the attackers came from a place where the only way people know how to solve problems is by doing bad, violent things to each other. Make a point of mentioning how lucky we are because we don't live in a place like that."

Try to be reassuring. "The main thing kids are going to be worried about is if what happened on September 11 is going to happen again. As much as you want to tell them, 'No, nothing like that will ever happen again,' it's actually more reassuring if you tell them about all the people who work hard every day to keep us safe, and how they've been working harder and harder. 'Never again' is just an empty promise, and kids will pick up on that. But knowing that we have people to protect us who are on the job 24/7 will help kids feel less vulnerable."

What will you tell your kids about September 11?

 

Image via Paul Stein/Flickr

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