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Talking to Children about 9/11: A Guide to Support Parents and Teachers

At a time when children and teens are already anxious, let this 20-year commemoration of 9/11 be an opportunity for connection and equipping our youth to move more compassionately and bravely through our complex world.

  1. Thoughtfully consider what you believe are the most important lessons of 9/11. This will help you frame and ground whatever conversations you have.
  2. Begin with questions before offering information. Ask questions about what your children/teens know, beginning with “Have you heard of 9/11?” “What questions do you have?” This will help you meet kids where they are at. Focus on clearing misconceptions.

  3. Keep the conversation age and temperament appropriate. Prioritize processing complex emotions over teaching children details they may not be developmentally able to process. At the same time, do not avoid difficult questions or de-emphasize the impacts of 9/11.

  4. Curate documentaries and literature that are created with children and teens in mind and engage with them together. Limit exposure to traumatizing images and video. 

  5. Model healthy engagement. Avoid watching too much coverage and watching endless “expert analysis.” Both adults and children need to be able to process the images and information they are taking in. Overconsumption interferes with integrating information and emotions.

  6. Discuss behaviors people engage in when they are afraid. Discuss the enduring harm of Islamophobia and the scapegoating of Arab-Americans

  7. Build empathy. Read and listen to stories of people who lived through/were impacted by 9/11. Discuss the long-lasting impacts (both negative and positive) that can come from violence. Make empathetic connections to victims of terror outside the United States. 

  8. Focus on the helpers. Talk about the creative ways helpers show up to provide support during difficult times. Make the connection between their own gifts/abilities and ways that they can and do actively support others. 

  9. Co-create a ritual that helps children connect emotionally. Consider a word/art collage, creating an altar, utilizing a grief bowl.

  10. Together, choose an organization that is doing positive work in response to 9/11 and support it as an annual act of remembrance.

  11. Revisit the conversation. At a later date, ask them if they have any more feelings, questions, or thoughts they’d like to share. Remind them that you’ll make yourself available when/if they do have more to share. Continue to make connections as they arise.

 

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