Talking to your children about 9/11

I was not in New York City or Washington, D.C. or Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001. I did not personally know anyone who died that day.  Yet, when I think back to that blue-skied, seemingly perfect September morning that dissolved into violence and tragedy, my eyes fill and my throat hurts.

I think for most Americans, even 10 years later, the memory is fresh. We can clearly remember where we were, what we were doing.  

I was working at James Madison University, and remember the fear that quickly spread across campus as we heard about the World Trade Center towers, then the Pentagon, then the plane crash in Pennsylvania. We wondered what would happen next. Students flooded phone lines trying to find out news about loved ones. Classes were cancelled and vigils were held.

Certainly in the next few days, we will relive those moments, as we commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

But there are many Americans who did not live through that day. These are our children.

My children probably could not even really define the word terrorism. But in the coming days, they will surely hear — on TV, on the radio, in school, among friends — something about the attacks of 9/11. And I wonder quite what to say. How to prepare them.

A friend of mine asked the question on Facebook: How do I talk to my children about 9/11? I think it’s a question many of us have.

I think we probably should in some age-appropriate way talk about it. I recently read this quote on the New York Times blog

“I am a student, and to be honest I really thought history was boring because all of the dates you had to remember for tests. But now by reading this Learning Network article I started to think about how you really need to deeply understand the history of something. And by understanding it you will realize that it is essential to human life.

I think 9/11 should be taught in schools across the world, and we shouldn’t neglect it, we should understand and remember the event.”

Talking with your children about 9/11

Parents, who know their child’s sensitivity and maturity, can best gauge what to share and what to hold back.

If you’re wondering how to begin talking to your child, visit and download the free PDF (link at the bottom of the text), “Talking to Children.” 

CBS News also produced an informative video for parents last week. (Sorry you'll see a little ad first before the video.)

Tips from experts

Most experts advise parents to:

 • Focus on simple facts, as age appropriate.

 • Avoid letting your children see the graphic photos and videos from that day.

 • Share stories of hope and heroism.

 •  Be reassuring. Talk about how people across America — from the President of the United States to our local firefighters — are working to keep us safe.

Donna Dunn would love for you to post your thoughts and advice on this blog about how you plan to talk to your kids.