(Reposted from Sept. 2011)
As with the past 10 years, this upcoming September 11th marks the anniversary of the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center. Many of us can still vividly recall exactly what we were doing at the moment this occurred. For me, I was awakened at 5:45 am with a phone call from my mother telling me to turn on my TV immediately. I watched CNN and saw the second airplane hit the building on live television. I watched the towers crumble and our world as we knew it forever change. I was living alone in Los Angeles and that day, the whole city shut down out of fear that we would be the next target.
This moment in our history has impacted each of us differently. For many young children, they believed that the terrorists continued to wreack havoc on America as they did not understand that the images they saw were reruns of the tragic event, not new events unfolding. With each passing year, these same images are replayed over and over as the anniversary of the terrorist event draws near. With each passing year, as this happens, young children are confused and scared by what they see and ask Mom and Dad, “What happened?”
Here are some helpful hints and guidelines in opening a discussion with your children about this event and their fears surrounding it.
1- Talk to your child on their level
For instance, a 4 year old can understand “Some bad guys made a very bad choice and hurt people” versus “Terrorists from the Middle East…”
2- Reassure them that they are safe now
Inform them that the images on the TV are from a long time ago and not happening now.
3- Try to not use scary words
Young children understand “hurt” but more descriptive words such as kill, murder, etc. are beyond their present understanding. Even older school age children who do understand the definition do not need to be told in explicit detail.
4-Comfort your child if they’re distressed
If your child starts having fears or nightmares, you can normalize this fear for them by giving a gentle hug and letting them know that the information is scary but they are safe with you no matter what and you will always protect them the best that you can.
Above all else, children want to know that they are loved and will be protected. So turn off the TV and give them a hug and the reassurance that they are safe and you love them. This will be the best information of all.
Clair Mellenthin is the Clinical Director at Wasatch Family Therapy. As a registered play therapist, Clair helps children, families, and individuals work through the challenges they are facing. She is also a contributor to local and national television news and radio programs.