Talking about 9/11

As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches we are bound to see many images of that day on television and to hear people speaking of the events of that time.  For many of us, it feels like a not so distant memory.  For many children, it can be confusing or scary to see such graphic images of something unexpected on television.  Here are my tips for talking to children about 9/11:

  • Children under six should be protected from TV or radio—or images of that time.
  • For children, over six, don’t wait to talk with them until after they hear about it from someone else—but keep your conversation simple and age appropriate; let them ask questions.

For example, with younger kids you can talk about the planes flown by some bad people going into the buildings and that we are mourning for the people lost.  For children in high school  you can be more detailed and use this as an opportunity to talk about why people in another country might not like us and how destructive hate is in general.  Be prepared to talk about Osama bin Laden and war in general.

  • End on an upbeat note—let them know that we have taken a number of precautions and we are safe—they are safe.   Don’t say it will “never” happen again but do reassure them of their safety.
  • For kids (or adults) who may have seen this on the news.  Be prepared to talk about their memories—possibly do  something positive to create a time of reflection. 

Remember that memories are chemical and that this is a personal and collective event for all of us and when emotion combines with memory we tend to remember more.  Who doesn’t remember where they were on that day?

  • These sorts of events tap what is called “flashbulb” memory and how these memories form and change are still  hotly debated topics in memory research.  For example, studies show that the more personally you were connected to the events, the more the oldest part of the brain is involved (the amygdala) and the more likely you will experience the memory more vividly.  But,  research has also shown that we  tend to forget certain aspects of these memories and remember them wrong over time.  For example, most of us inaccurately recall how we found out about the events and instead integrate much of what we saw on the television that day into our own personal account of the events.