There are a lot of people who have written a lot of wise words about how to talk to children about 9/11. I'm not a child psychologist, or a teacher, or an expert on trauma. I am a parent, though, and ultimately every parent has to handle this themselves, whether or not they are also a a child psychologist, teacher, or trauma expert.
So I talked to my child about 9/11 today on the way to school in the car. She was born a few years after 9/11/01, so it wasn't something that had really come up before. But we had switched the radio from NPR to her favorite music station--the one that plays all the pre-teen pop songs--and they were talking about 9/11. So I just asked her, "Do you know what they're talking about when people are talking about 9-11 or September 11th?" She didn't. So I told her, in simple terms, that on September 11th, ten years ago, before she was born, some men, which we call terrorists, had taken over some planes, using knives, and wanted to kill everyone, so they flew the planes into buildings and crashed them, and that they did this with three planes, and two of the buildings, the World Trade Center or "Twin Towers" had completely collapsed, and a lot of people had died on that day. And then I just answered her questions -- she's pretty bold about asking questions. And that let me know where her thoughts were. And I made sure to tell her two things -- first, that this was why they check people over a lot more now before we go on airplanes, so that would keep us safer, and, secondly, that there were a lot of people who were heroes on that day, like some people on a fourth plane who stopped that plane from hitting a fourth building.
Her questions were:
Why do people want to remember this now, and talk about it?
Why did those people want to crash the planes?
Why did they hate us?
Ten years is a long time when you're not ten yet. However, explaining why we want to remember, when people are still sad, is easy to do for a kid who has done funerals for her pets. Answering "Why did they hate us?" on a car ride to school is less easy. I told her that I didn't really completely understand this, either.
How do we explain acts of violence to our children? It's definitely not easy. I'm still working on this one. Meanwhile what I want her to know at her age, the age of nightmares, is that we've worked to make things safer, and that most people on that day acted in good ways, and that's a big part of what we want to remember.