By Shoshana Storch, LCSW-C
Parents want to believe that they have the power to keep their child safe. In a post 9/11 world, it has become painfully clear that even in America, we are not immune from terrorism. How do we instill a sense of safety and security in our children when we ourselves are aware of how much potential danger surrounds us?
On the eleventh anniversary of September 11th, we are faced with the additional challenge of protecting our children from the onslaught of frightening images of these events that will be replayed over and over by the media. We will be forced to answer difficult questions such as “Why do people want to kill other people?” and “Will our plane be hijacked?” and “What’s terrorism?” Even as adults, we struggle to process how such terror and cruelty can exist in our world.
Being caught off guard by our children’s questions and reactions to 9/11 information can be stressful and upsetting. Here are some pointers on how to deal with this sensitive topic:
- Be proactive. Don’t wait for your child to come to you with questions. As 9/11 approaches, sit down with your family to discuss these events in the way that you choose. If you don’t talk about it, your children may not realize that they can approach you with their concerns. Open up a dialogue where thoughts and feelings can be expressed.
- Control the media by choosing your own media. Video footage of the towers crumbling may be traumatic for children. Similarly, photographs of people jumping from the towers are inappropriate for many children to view. By choosing your own books and videos, you can protect your children from unnecessary imagery that can cause anxiety or nightmares. (Some suggested resources are listed below.)
- Honesty is the best policy. We must be honest with our children without terrifying them. If details need to be omitted so that our children can sleep soundly, then that’s the appropriate decision. However, be wary of making false promises such as “America will never suffer from any more terrorism” or “Nothing like that will ever happen again.” A better approach may be, “Our country is doing everything it can to keep us safe” or “There are a lot of good people who are working hard to make sure that terrorists won’t attack America again.”
- Know your child. Every child processes information differently, on his or her individual emotional and intellectual level. One child may not need much explanation or assurance in order to feel secure. Another child may need to hear the same information from you several times before being able to fully process it. Asking repetitive questions or wanting multiple instances of reassurance may be perfectly normal for some children. However, if significant time has passed and your child is continuing to struggle with questions and concerns, you may want to seek professional advice.
It is impossible to ignore the sadness that accompanies this anniversary. We all mourn the loss of innocent lives and innocent minds as we remember the day that changed our country forever. Talking to our children about 9/11 in an honest and healthy way not only prevents the day from being re-traumatizing, but also presents an opportunity for the family to grow closer together. The late ABC news anchor Peter Jennings said, “9/11 was a reminder that the bonds of family can be severed in an instant.” With that painful truth, it seems fitting that we commemorate the day by spending time with our loved ones, remembering what happened and cherishing each other.
By Shoshana Storch, LCSW-C, Therapy Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
Suggested resources for parents:
“September 12th: We Knew Everything Would Be All Right” by First Grade Students of H. Byron Masterson Elementary in Kennett, Missouri
“America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell” by Don Brown
“We The People: September 11” by Mary Englar
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