Talking About 9/11
What lessons can we still learn from September 11?
This is a hard year to talk with school-aged children about the tragedy of 9/11, but it might also be the most important time to dive into discussions about terrorism, war, ideology, and what it means to try and keep people safe and free.
Educators around the world are keeping their eyes and ears tuned to their students’ social-emotional well-being, since the pandemic has caused so much upheaval in the past couple of years. Add to that collective stress the marches and protests calling for racial equity that dominated some regions last summer. And look toward shaky democracies and the climate crisis for even more reasons that children (and adults) are having trouble sleeping and eating.
Kids have been through a lot, and it might be tempting to simply protect them from revisiting the hard parts of recent history, but that would be a disservice. Instead, we need to make space for important discussions, and the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is the perfect opportunity.
But it can be a complicated conversation. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when it’s time. And for more information, check out the 911 Memorial website.
Ask kids what they already know about September 11.
Many children will have learned some things about 9/11 from other people and news reports. In addition to getting an idea of what they know about the basic facts, this is a chance to correct any misinformation they’ve been carrying.
Be truthful and don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
No one person has all the answers, and by admitting that you don’t know the answer to a question, you’re inviting the child to do some research.
Make room for all emotions.
Fear, anger, guilt—emotional responses are personal and different for everyone. Don’t try to filter how your kids and students react. Every emotion is valid. However, be sure your own fear and anxiety don’t overshadow your interactions with kids.
Focus on hope.
It can be easy to slip into despair when thinking about 9/11 and the conflict in Afghanistan, but that’s not useful or healthy for anyone, especially kids. These are the future leaders of the world, and we can support them now by showing them that things do change and that people do have the power to make that change.
For a great conversation starter, try this sample chapter from Terrorism: Violence, Intimidation, and Solutions for Peace.