As we remember September 11 and mourn the day’s losses, questions are bound to arise for parents with toddlers. Young children may innocently wonder what is being “celebrated” or what “holiday” it is. As a parent of toddlers, how do you explain the tragic events of September 11th with children so young, who cannot comprehend all the intricacies and grand scale of loss that occurred that fateful day?
Keep your explanation brief and simple – As always, when talking about a difficult concept with young children, it is best to keep your answers short and relatable. Explain terms in ways that toddlers can understand, while avoiding details and long, drawn-out answers. When the child loses interest in the discussion, the parent should move on to other topics.
Explain that 9/11 is not a holiday we celebrate, but a day to remember something sad – While noticing American flag décor, public gatherings or other special activities, toddlers may naively think September 11 is a holiday. Gently clarify how this day is about remembering something sad that happened to our country.
Some young children may be content with the description of “Something sad happened,” while others may continue to probe. When your toddler asks what happened that was sad, continue to give brief answers: “Many families lost family members that day“, or “Many people went to go be with Jesus that day” (depending on your faith), or “Remember when Great-Grandpa went to heaven? Many other people went to heaven on September 11th too.”
If a toddler continues to ask why, a parent can simply explain “A plane crashed“, or “A building fell down.” It will be up to the parent to decide how in-depth they want to go into the descriptions and stories of the military, war, terrorists, religious differences, and other controversial and complex subjects.
Use September 11 as a positive character lesson for your toddler – A parent can paint the picture of 9/11 as a bad thing that happened, but turn it into a teachable moment about kindness, compassion, love or faith. For example, “When we see people are sad, we need to help them” or “When bad things happen, we need to pray to God for help.”
Point out 9/11 activities your child sees in a simple, positive way – When you and your toddler see a flag flying half-mast, explain that when we fly American flags halfway down the pole, it means we can remember good people that we’ve lost. When flags are flying on houses and street poles, point out that many American people love and are proud of their country. When we see members of the military in their gear, a parent can describe how proud and grateful we are for how they protect our country.
As all Americans know, September 11 is a day to commemorate. On that day, we remember all of those who lost their lives on that tragic blue-sky morning, in New York City, Shanksville, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
If you’re a parent with toddlers, don’t try and ignore the subject of 9/11 completely – this is a permanent and important part of our American heritage, and something that needs to be remembered and addressed. With young children, just be sure to keep your explanations short and relatable – there will be plenty of time for more in-depth description of this tragedy as they grow up.