When talking to kids about the anniversary, focus on how resilient we were as a nation
NEW YORK- The anniversary of Sept.11 is always a painful one: It reminds us of the events of that terrible day, of the thousands of lives lost, of how stunned and vulnerable we felt as the reality of the attacks sank in.
The 10th anniversary brings those things even more sharply into focus. We want to honor the dead, the families who bore the burden of the attack and the things we stand for as a nation. But we are also aware of all the ways we’ve changed and moved on in a decade. And nothing reminds us more powerfully of how much time has passed than our children. The Child Mind Institute urges that we give special thought to the needs of children as the day approaches.
For Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and president of the Child Mind Institute, the most important thing to remember when talking to your kids around the anniversary is that the conversation is for their benefit. “We all have vivid memories of that day and the painful days that followed,” Dr. Koplewicz says.
“But many of our children, particularly those under 10 (years), are approaching the events of 9/11 as a historic event and from a very different place. Be honest, be compassionate, but let them guide the conversation.”
For kids old enough to remember the attacks, Dr. Koplewicz suggests parents gauge their feelings about the anniversary without judgment. “Children, and adolescents in particular, often resent being expected to have ‘appropriate’ feelings on demand.”
Other tips include:
Share but don’t impose your feelings. The events, and the emotions of that day, are still painful to many of us, but you want kids to know they don’t have to feel the same way. Ten years is a long time, especially in the life and mind of a child or a teenager, and unless they lost people close to them in the attacks, the memories may not be potent. It’s helpful to them if they don’t feel you depend on them to perform in a prescribed way.
Don’t answer questions that aren’t asked. Children as young as first grade are learning about 9/11 in school, as an important part of our history. But there’s no reason to volunteer disturbing or frightening details unless a child has heard them and needs a reality check from you. If he does want to talk about things that are deeply upsetting to you, try to do so calmly, without telegraphing your anxiety and also remembering to discuss how resilient New York City and our nation were during and after the attack.
Visit the Child Mind Institute’s web site at www.childmind.org for more tips from Dr. Koplewicz on how to make the 9/11 anniversary a learning experience, but not an anxiety-provoking one.
Childmind.org has many other online resources for families that may be helpful during this period of remembrance, including:
Tips for parents in families that lost a loved one. Dr. Koplewicz addresses the unique challenge of remembering a spouse or a parent who is something of a stranger to a child in a piece written for 9/11 family group Tuesday’s Children.
What makes an event traumatic? Dr. Steven Berkowitz, professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania,describes what really happens when we experience lasting reactions to a devastating event. The key: trauma is a process over time.
When to worry about anxiety. We all get anxious, and some of us find it heightened when remembering shocking events. This article has tips on how to spot severe, impairing anxiety in children and adolescents.
Get child mental health information. Whether you’re a parent concerned about a child’s behavior, or a professional trying to deepen your understanding of childhood and adolescent psychiatric disorders, the Child Mind Institute provides resources like the Symptom Checker and the Mental Health Guide to get you the answers you need, and that children depend on.
We hope that this 10th anniversary passes in the best possible way for every family, indeed every individual, and that you will consider the Child Mind Institute as a resource in the future, whether you are a parent, a health professional, a teacher, or a concerned citizen.