On the anniversary of September 11, 2001, minds all around the country—even world—go back to that day. We think of the families affected, share memories of where we were when we heard the news and think about how life has changed. For so many of us, it continues to define how we frame life's events: Everything before was pre-9/11. Everything since is post-9/11.
For others, different events or natural disasters may have similar effects on our lives. So, how do we begin to explain their significance to our children?
For pointers on navigating this tricky subject, we reached out to Carole Lieberman, M.D., author of Lions, Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My: How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terrorism.
Get to the bottom of your feelings
First, you need to figure out how you really feel about the events. Depending on your age, you may have felt scared, mad or mostly sad—and it's perfectly fine to admit any of that, says Lieberman. You can then share how the consequences continue to affect life, while discussing the positive ways that people came together.
Also be reassuring. You may use phrases such as, "When I was afraid, my mom and dad were there for me. And I'll always be there for you."
Start the age-appropriate conversations early
"The sooner you have this talk, the better," Lieberman says, adding it's likely your child picked up some information from the media, other kids or overheard conversations. In the beginning, you can keep it simple. Just be sure your children know you are willing to talk about it and want to help clear up any confusion they may have.
To help guide the conversation, respond to the questions your children ask rather than talking about all of the details that may still be difficult for them to understand. Those discussions can happen another year.
Lieberman says it's best to explain we can't guarantee an attack or natural disaster will never happen again. "Your child will know you are not telling the truth and it will be scarier that they can't trust you," she says. Then encourage your children to talk about how that makes them feel. If you notice it turns up anxiety in your children, Lieberman says you need to give them a safe space to work through all of that.
Above all, it's important to let children know you'll always work through frightening events as a family—and can come out even stronger on the other side. ❤️