91/11/2001: The Day That Changed America
Expert Advice
Coping with the first anniversary of 9/11
By Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D.

Anniversary reactions to traumatic events are very common. On the first anniversary of 9/11 it will be difficult for anyone to avoid reminders of this tragic day. Images, stories, and discussion of 9/11 will be everywhere

Here are several things that you should know about anniversary reactions:

  • More than 200,000 children in the United States are estimated to have developed persisting trauma-related symptoms related to 9/11. Children who developed any significant symptoms will exhibit an increase in the intensity of these problems.

  • Children with emotional, behavioral, or learning problems are likely to show an increase in their symptoms. Children with pre-existing vulnerabilities are much more sensitive to developing both temporary and lasting trauma-related symptoms.

  • Even if a child did not develop any significant emotional or behavioral symptoms related to the events of 9/11, and he has no pre-existing neuropsychiatric problems, he may exhibit transient changes in the way he thinks, feels, and acts.

  • All children will find it harder to focus and learn during this time. They are likely to return to the vigilance present in the first weeks after 9/11. This will build in the weeks before 9/11/02 and decrease in the weeks after the anniversary passes.

Here are some things you can do to help your students:

  • Talk about 9/11 as a class. This discussion, however, should be relatively short; revisit this event from the new perspective of one year later. The focus should be on resilience. How we as individuals — and we as a society — have faced this challenge.

  • In this discussion, reassure the class that intrusive ideations, fears, vigilance, and some of the other feelings they may be experiencing are expected and will pass with time. Invite any child who feels overly upset to tell her parents, or if she feels comfortable, you at an appropriate time.

  • If any child is exhibiting extreme symptoms of distress related to 9/11 contact the school's counselor or parents to ensure further assessment.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Senior Fellow at the ChildTrauma Academy in Houston, Texas. For more information, go to www.ChildTrauma.org