by Steve Adubato, PhD

Communicating with children, particularly our own, about September 11 has not been easy. Most of us are unclear about how much or how often we should bring the issue up. Should we bring the issue up at all? Should we wait for our kids to raise the topic? What if they don't? A large percentage of children have experienced significant emotional problems since September 11. How honest should we be about terrorism in general and our own fear in particular? Could it happen again? So many questions, so few answers.

With all the media coverage and the countless ceremonies and public events surrounding September 11, communicating with our children about September 11 once again confronts us. With that daunting challenge in mind, consider some practical communication tips:

  • Timing matters a lot. Timing is always an important factor in how and when we communicate. If your child brings up any aspect of 9/11, seize the opportunity to hear him or her out. Most parents know that it is better to have a meaningful conversation with our kids earlier in the day or at dinner as opposed to right before they go to bed. Talking about September 11 when both you and your child are tired and not at your best is not a good idea. However, if your child does want to talk about any aspect of 9/11 before bedtime, take advantage of the opportunity.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Instead of putting pressure on yourself to lecture about 9/11, put yourself in listening mode. See yourself as an interviewer asking probing, but sensitive, open-ended questions that encourage your child to talk about their feelings, fears and concerns. The Mental Health Association of NJ recently published a list of great 9/11 related questions that can help get your kids talking:
  • Tell me what you remember about what happened on September 11?
  • What have you talked about in school?
  • How do you feel about the way our country responded?
  • Don't try to do it alone. Place a call to your child's teacher or to school administrators to get a better sense of how they are dealing with September 11 related activities. What forums are they providing that allow kids to talk and share their feelings? If you have a sense of what the school is doing, it makes your job easier when attempting to communicate with your own child on the subject.
  • Television communicates a powerful but sometimes distorted message. Correctly, the Mental Health Association advocates that we monitor our children's television viewing surrounding the anniversary of September 11. TV is obsessed with pictures and no picture communicates a more powerful message than the planes going into the World Trade Center and the towers ultimately collapsing. It is up to us as parents to communicate with our children that such a horrific event is clearly not the norm and even though we are seeing it again and again, it only happened once and the odds are highly unlikely that it will happen again.
  • Age appropriate communication. A five-year-old is not a ten-year-old. Try to empathize as much as possible with how a child of whatever age might be dealing with all this. Then, remember how hard it is for you to deal with it. What an incredible communication challenge before us.

Finally, if at times the challenge is simply too much, none of us should ever hesitate to reach out for professional help. To that end, check out a great web site at which helps parents and teachers communicate more effectively with their kids. How are you communicating with your kids about terrorism? Drop me a line.