May We Never Forget: Talking to Your Kids About 9/11

talking to kids about 9/11

In my late 20s (pre-kids), I visited Auschwitz. To put it bluntly, I saw the many ways people suffered and died.  At the end of my tour, I was left with one stinging question: why do people visit this place, one haunted by incomprehensible evil? At that very moment, I looked up and the answer was right before me. I saw the quote, “He who does not learn from History is doomed to repeat it.” For me, learning from history is about remembering the past.

It’s in honor of this sacred remembering that I write this post. Readers, each of us remembers exactly what we were doing and where we were the morning of September 11, 2001. This tragedy is personal to all of us. In the aftermath and through the rebuilding of our country, we witnessed profound perseverance, strength, unification and heroism.

Seeing this unexpected beauty and sharing it with our kids can be a gift. Talking about terrorism with your kids isn’t easy, but there are resources to help. The 9/11 Memorial is a great place to start with a “Talking to Children” guide, FAQ (recommended for ages 8+), museum guide with really helpful (and appropriate) visuals and interactive videos.   

Here are some ways to begin talking to your kids about 9/11:

Begin the conversation: As parents, we often shy away from tough conversations that could evoke anxiety and fear in our kids. We want to protect them. However, we want our kids to hear the facts from us. You are providing a safe place for your kids to come to ask hard questions (and learn the truth).

  • Start with, “Have you heard of 9/11?”
  • You can follow-up with: “What would you like to know?” or “How does this make you feel?”
  • Remind your child that he/she is safe, and that many people work hard to keep us safe. Focus on the first responders…the helpers and heroes. Share your feelings.

Discuss the facts (recommended for ages 8+; adjust the language and details to be more simple and succinct for younger kids)

  • What is 9/11? “9/11” is shorthand for a date, September 11, 2001. That day, 19 terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes. They intentionally flew three of the planes into buildings: the Twin Towers (the tallest buildings in New York City) at the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon, the headquarters for the armed forces of the United States, located just outside Washington, D.C. The Twin Towers ultimately collapsed because of damage from the impact of the hijacked planes. Hijackers turned the fourth plane off course and headed to Washington, D.C., likely to be crashed into the U.S. Capitol building. The passengers and crew aboard that plane fought back, and the plane instead crashed into an empty field in western Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people were killed as a result of the 9/11 attacks, including people from more than 90 nations.
  • What are terrorists and why did they do this? The hijackers were terrorists, meaning that they used violence to try to frighten other people and impose a particular point of view. They belonged to a terrorist group called al-Qaeda. The terrorists hoped that by attacking important buildings in the United States and hurting many people, they would force the United States into changing its foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.
  • What does hijack mean? Seize control of and divert from the intended path.
  • Middle East: A region of the world located largely in western Asia. There are many countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen. While the terrorists came from the Middle East, the citizens of this region are good people and they deserve our love and respect just like anyone else.
  • First responders: Uniformed officers, like firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical technicians (EMTs), who are trained to help in an emergency. On 9/11, many first responders rushed to the World Trade Center to help.
  • Ground Zero: A phrase used to describe a scene of great devastation. It was used to describe the destroyed World Trade Center after 9/11.

Observe: Point out the many helpers and caring people in the world. Ask your child what helpers he/she sees every day.

Reach out: September 11 has been memorialized as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. Discuss ways you can serve someone today!

  • Talk about 9/11 as a way to remember the victims and their families.
  • Bake cookies for your local firefighters.
  • Draw a picture or write a letter to a veteran.
  • Suggest your child earn money for (or donate his/her allowance to) the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund (scholarships to financially needy dependents of those killed in the attacks, or affected in rescue efforts).
  • Say a special prayer for the victims and their families.
  • Read Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of John J. Harvey.

In loving memory of the victims of 9/11, and in honor of the victim’s families. We will always remember.

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