91/11/2001: The Day That Changed America
Frequently Asked Questions
Answers from Adele M. Brodkin, Ph.D.

Q: Should I allow my child to watch the 9/11 anniversary specials on TV?

A: Please don't think I am passing the buck, but you, the parent, are the most appropriate person to answer this question. I say this because you know your child best. You know whether or not anyone close to him was directly affected by the tragedy, how close the events were to you and your family geographically, how sensitive your child is and how susceptible he is to feeling others' pain.

That said, I cannot think of a good reason to watch these specials with a child of 5, 6, probably even 7 or 8. The younger the child, the less likely she will be able to understand that these events occurred a year ago and are not happening again. Young children's reactions are likely to range between boredom and fear, so I would suggest that you not watch the TV specials with your young children present. If your child comes home from school with a request to watch a particular feature, that is a different matter. If someone close to your family was lost on 9/11, attending a memorial service for families would, of course, be appropriate as long as your child is agreeable. But don't force it. If your child had nightmares and other traumatic reactions to the event last year, I see no reason to revive the worry, just for the sake of being aware of the historical event.

Q: Should I keep my child home from school on 9/11/02?

A: Unequivocally no. Not unless your family suffered a loss and is attending a memorial service or event. There is no implicit lack of respect in going to school, in treating the day as a normal one, a day to meet ordinary life obligations. There will be plenty of attention given to the occasion in virtually every school. Older children should have the chance to think about, read about, and express any thoughts they wish to, perhaps to listen to the president in an assembly, and then return to carrying on their daily work. It is interesting to note that in a number of religions which make congregants aware of obligations of mourners (and obligations of the community toward them), at the end of a year the mourners are expected to shed their black garments and go back to living full, rich lives — including working and playing.

Q: How can I best explain the anniversary of 9/11 to my child?

A: I don't see any reason for parents to spontaneously provide a didactic lesson about the day and its meaning. Wait to be asked a question or take the opportunity to correct a child's expressed misimpression. Young children will experience any anniversary event only in terms of their own limited experience and active imaginations. Just like it is with the discovery of America, the creation of 13 colonies, the brutal wars fought by generations of American heroes, there will be many, many more chances to answer your children's questions, and to correct their misimpressions. It doesn't all have to be done this year.

Q: I know my 9 year old is aware of the events that occurred on 9/11, but I cannot get him to open up about it. Do I assume he's handling this on his own?

A: Yes, I think you can assume he is handling it in his own way. It is never a good idea to try to get a child (or an adult for that matter) to "open up" about a tough subject. Psychological defenses are there for good reasons. Kids will talk if and when they are ready, as long as they know you are there to listen.