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7 Tips: How to talk to our kids about 9-11

Have you noticed? Interspersed with the hurricane and US budget discussions, the news is starting to talk about 9-11… a lot! As a Dad, I really hadn’t really thought yet about the impending onslaught of 10th anniversary 9-11 coverage and how it might affect my 3 year old daughter. Sure we all monitor our kids’ television viewing, but it’s going to be hard to prevent them from seeing and hearing about 9-11, and they are going to have questions.

Child watching 9-11 anniversary news coverage“The most important rule is to take any question very seriously and just deal with that question,” says Richard Rende, a Child psychologist, professor at Brown University and blogger for Parents.com. “‘Less is more’ is a very good principle with kids. Let them direct you and don’t make assumptions about what they want to know. You can answer a question without going into detail,” he said. “You can try to be honest without being graphic.”

This may be the first time my little girl asks me about death. In her three years she’s not yet lost a family member or pet, so that topic hasn’t come up. Have you spoken to your kids about death? Seeing or hearing about (on TV or from other kids) the tragedy of 9-11 is going to cause feelings of fear and insecurity in many children. We need to be prepared and proactive in letting our kids know they can and should come to us with questions.

Advice for talking to kids about 9-11

  • Don’t wait for your kids to approach you; let them know the lines of conversation are open.
  • Set aside a time to do this when you won’t be quickly interrupted.
  • Answer simply and directly. Less is more. Be honest without being graphic.
  • Listen to the kids and let their questions guide you. Don’t broach new subjects they haven’t asked about.
  • Be reassuring. Give them the confidence that they’re okay.
  • Monitor their exposure to media as best you can.
  • Be prepared for the conversation to continue after the anniversary.

I would like to thank David Orenstein on the News Staff at Brown University for allowing me to share some of Professor Rende’s suggestions with you. If you found this helpful, or if you have any additional thoughts on how you’ve discussed 9-11 or just death in general with your kids please leave a comment below. The more we can share with each other as parents, the better prepared we will be to help our kids live in this ever more frightening world.

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  1. RoryBore

    It’s funny…I too wasn’t even really thinking about it being the 10 year “anniversary”….being Canadian, I guess we have the fortune and blessing to be somewhat removed. When I was younger I visited NYC and took this fabulous picture of the skyline – including the twin towers – while on the ferry. After 911, I had it blown up and put on my living room wall – Never Forget!
    Just the other day my 2 older children were looking at the picture and commenting, “I bet those are the 2 tallest buildings in the world!” “They almost touch the clouds!” And of course, the inevitable, “Can we go see those huge towers mommy?”
    I started to cry. 10 years have passed, and still I started to cry. It’s not even my homeland…and still, I cry. My spirit wells up for my neighbours just writing this. And……”no honey, we can’t go see them.”

    What followed was a conversation that some might say was too honest for young children (7 and 4 1/2). I told them pretty much everything…from the plane hijackings, to the various crashes, about the heroes, and that they had caught the evil mastermind. Why? Because there is evil in this world and it can touch them. But far beyond that, there is good…..and that’s what makes it worth fighting for. And they, even young as they are, will choose a side. And you know what? They got it. completely…..well, kind of thanks to George Lucas too…
    “just like Star Wars mommy? cause Anakin was all hate and anger and he became evil, but Luke loved his friends and helped them and that made him good — and because he choose love and good, he saved his daddy too.”
    from the mouths of babes.

    1. Michael Schmid

      “just like Star Wars mommy? cause Anakin was all hate and anger and he became evil, but Luke loved his friends and helped them and that made him good — and because he choose love and good, he saved his daddy too.” from the mouths of babes.

      Thank you for sharing your story with us, and for caring for us, your neighbors to the south. I’m glad you kids took the explanation well. It may come up again in the next week. My wife was in Manhattan when the planes struck. I was in my home office and someone called and told me to turn on the TV. I guess we all remember where we were… except our kids. And that was why I shared this information. I hope it helps people.

  2. Mary Kathryn Johnson

    My sons, ages 13 and soon to be 10, both know about 9/11/01, because they know the story of how their mom fell and broke both her legs when she was 8 months pregnant with my youngest on 9/5/01!

    We will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/5 with humor, and happiness that all ended healthy and well, and then mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with a mixture of humor as to my plight with a pink cast on one leg up to the knee and a blue cast on the other, thanks for our family and health.

    The sadness for the losses and continued suffering of 9/11 cannot be expressed in words – not by me, anyway. When we discuss it with our two boys again, we will surely need to delve deeper as they are older, but the advice your post gives of “Less is More” is always good for parents.

    1. Michael Schmid

      Yes, Mary Katheryn, I thought Dr. Rende’s “less is more” point made a lot of sense. I sometimes find myself as an adult sharing more than is really necessary, and we can create fear and insecurity where it need not exist.

  3. Working Mommy

    Thankfully little Lulu is still only 2 and while she does watch some TV with The Man and I, she doesn’t really understand what is being talked about. I have no doubt that the questions will come up sooner rather than later, and hopefully I will be prepared to discuss what happened with both of my kiddos.

    WM

    1. Michael Schmid

      Mine is only just turned three, but I know even when she was very young she was more aware than I’d have thought of things around her. The coverage this year will probably be more intense than normal so it will be hard to avoid even with careful monitoring.

  4. Mumsy

    These are excellent lists of advice when broaching any tricky conversation with young children. I especially love the “you can try to be honest without being graphic”. So very true. I always let my children know they could talk to me about anything; but usually waited for them to approach me with questions. What is extremely important is to answer their questions, rather than give the standard “you’re too young to understand” jargon. They understand more than we give them credit for; but they also don’t need all the graphic details. Especially with a subject like this. (((HUGS))) M

    1. Michael Schmid

      Good advice, M. As I noted above, I tend to “over share” and as you point out, especially avoiding unnecessary details makes a lot of sense. More than anything I want my little girl to feel safe and secure, and feel she can talk to us about anything. I guess that’s what all parents want?

  5. Deb @ Living Montessori Now

    That’s great advice, Michael. I know many parents are wondering how to deal with talking about 9/11 with their children. I’ve also heard the suggestions of “less is more” and answer questions directly when talking about death with young children. I just featured your post on the Living Montessori Now Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/LivingMontessoriNow.

    1. Michael Schmid

      Thanks, Deb. Yes, the “less is more” advice is something I took away from this professor’s tips as very important. You featured my post on your blog. That’s great… I hope it helps some parents who are struggling with how to handle this. I certainly needed these tips. Have a very safe day, week, month, year… life! :)

  6. Marlene

    Maybe it better if you grow up a bit and discover it yourself since i dont want to force my points of view into you.

    1. Michael Schmid

      Mostly letting them know you’ll listen if they have questions is probably most important. Some are going to hear it from friends or catch something on TV (even when we’re doing our best to monitor it). Have a safe 9-11 and every day thereafter.

  7. Susan

    Toddlers can raise 2000 questions a day. We should answer them honestly and concisely. Asking is their way to explore new things.

    1. Michael Schmid

      The most important rule is to take any question very seriously and just deal with questions about something like this. ‘Less is more’ is a very good principle with kids. Let them direct you and don’t make assumptions about what they want to know. You can answer a question without going into detail. You can try to be honest without being graphic.

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