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Ask an Expert: Talking to your kids about 9/11

Q. My son has many questions about Sept. 11. He’s hearing all about it at school and I think he’s been scanning our newspapers. He’s only 7, and I’m not sure how much to share with him. Any suggestions?


A. As our nation faces the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, parents may find themselves caught off guard by questions asked by their children about the tragic events of that day.

Here are some guidelines for helping children effectively cope with knowledge of the terrorist attacks and the tremendous suffering and loss experienced by our nation.

Tips for talking to kids

  • Avoid exposing children to media rebroadcasts of the World Trade Center attacks.  For the inquisitive child, you may consider showing them pictures or video of commemorative events.
  • Focus on feelings, and model “I” statements. For example, you might say, “I feel sad for our country and for all the people who died. It is important that we remember them and the heroes who worked to save them.”  Encourage your child to share his or her feelings.
  • Before providing factual information, find out from your child what he or she knows or has heard. Then ask, “What questions do you have about Sept. 11?”  Limit your disclosure based on your child’s responses to these questions.  Answer questions narrowly but thoughtfully, and then wait to see if he or she is satisfied with your answers.
  • It can be helpful to think about the film rating system in a situation like this. There are horrific and haunting details of the 9/11 attacks that simply cannot be comprehended by children, if anyone.  Sometimes a simple statement such as, “This is something that we can talk more about when you are older,” is more helpful than providing information that could then needlessly  trouble and preoccupy a child.
  • Assure your child confidently that your family, and our country, are secure and that you will keep them safe.
  • Children who have anxiety issues or a history of trauma are particularly vulnerable to the stress and imagery of tragic events like 9/11.  If nightmares develop or you notice changes in mood or behavior, consider seeking help from a child psychologist or other mental health provider.

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