REPUBLISHED FROM THE CHILD MIND INSTITUTE
1. Take your cues from your child—each child, individually, if you have more than one. For those old enough to remember the events of 9/11, let them tell you what the anniversary means to them, what they remember, and how they feel about participating in any commemoration. Children, and adolescents in particular, often resent being expected to have appropriate feelings on demand.
2. Share but don't impose your feelings. The events, and the emotions of that day, are still painful to many of us, but you want kids to know they don't have to feel the same way. Ten years is a long time, especially in the life and mind of a child, and unless they lost people close to them in the attacks, the memories may not be potent. It's helpful to them if they don't feel you depend on them to perform in a prescribed way.
3. Be age appropriate. If a child is too young to remember 9/11, consider her age in deciding whether this is a good time for her to learn about it, or learn more about it. Don't force the issue. But if you see the time is right, you may want to use the event to invite questions, to take an inventory of what she knows and thinks she knows, and provide more details.
4. Don't answer questions that aren't asked. Children as young as first grade are learning about 9/11 in school, as an important part of our history. But there's no reason to volunteer disturbing or frightening details unless a child has heard them and needs a reality check from you. If he does want to talk about things that are deeply upsetting to you, try to do so calmly, without telegraphing your feelings.
5. Try to avoid exposing children to the intrusive, repetitive TV news coverage, especially the pictures of 9/11 we saw for weeks and months after the event. They can make children feel anxious and stimulate unwanted emotions.
6. Help them feel safe. Kids are egocentric. They want to know "are we safe today?" The answer is yes, we are. Because of 9/11, there is tighter security at the airports and important buildings everywhere. And, finally, we are able to tell our children that the mastermind and many other leaders of al Qaeda, the hate group that sponsored this attack, have been killed or captured.
7. Focus on resilience. If you go to a memorial, talk to kids in advance about why you're going, focusing on honoring those who died, and celebrating the resilience of both the nation and the individual families who lost loved ones. We memorialize things out of respect, to demonstrate that we haven't forgotten their sacrifice, and to stand up for our values and beliefs. We honor those who tried to help those trapped in the towers in the attack and lost their lives as the buildings fell. We honor the many, many people who helped with the search for survivors and the painstaking and painful job of removing the mountain of rubble left by the attacks. Don't talk about the threat of terrorism and the next terrorist attack.
8. Don't focus on hatred. Teenagers have a lot of bravado. They tend to be dramatic and extreme, and some may respond to the renewed focus on 9/11 by wanting to out lash against all Arabs or all Muslims. As a parent, say, "I understand that you are angry. But 9/11 happened because of a select few, not an entire population." Help your child do something positive and active instead. There are a number of great organizations that need support, including Tuesday's Children, the Wounded Warrior Project, and the American Red Cross.
9. Don't feel you have only one chance to talk about this. As parents, you always get a "re-do" to talk about difficult things. It's better to think of tough issues as an ongoing conversation, which develops as kids grow and change. If you feel you haven't gotten it right the first time, give yourself a break and try again later.