It's been a tough week to have young children. First there were the unsettling images coming out of Houston from Hurricane Harvey. Then, on its heels, came the devastation of Irma. And now today, while 6 million people in Florida still remain without power, comes the 16th anniversary of 9/11.
Explaining what took place on September 11th to your kids is not an easy thing to do, and the decision of whether or not to broach the topic should ultimately be every parent's call. But because most of us have been glued to our screens a little more than usual this weekend, there's a good chance our little ones may have already picked up on something. And they may have questions. Which is why we turned to therapist and parenting expert Alyson Schafer, and Doctor on Demand psychiatrist Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi for advice on talking about the traumatic event with our children.
For starters, you'll want to find out what your kids already know and clear up any misconceptions. Because according to Benders-Hadi, while there is no one "right" age to talk about 9/11, it's important to consider the fact that many kids may have already gleaned some information about the events of the day via the news, social media, or things they heard at school from friends and/or teachers.
"Try to have a conversation with them before they are exposed via other means," she explained to Parents.com. "That way, you can dispel any rumors or untruths that may be out there."
It's also important to use language your children can easily understand, and give details that are appropriate for their developmental age. A good rule of thumb: The younger your kids are, the more simple and basic you'll want to be.
"For young children you might say 'Sept 11 is a day when a big tragedy happened and lots of people died and it makes people very sad to remember,'" explained Schafer. "Older youth will be more likely to engage in complex discussion of justice and terrorism."
To that end, Benders-Hadi recommends answering your child's questions as best you can—even if that means you sometimes have to admit you don't know something. But always end with the message that their world is still safe and secure by letting your kids know you are there to protect them, and by explaining that there are lots of brave people working behind the scenes to keep something like this from ever happening again.
"Remind them that since 9/11, many more safety measures have been put in place, like extra screening at the airport," added Schafer. "Remind them about all the helpers and rescuers and how the community all pulled together—There were so many heroic people."