What to tell kids about 9/11?

I’ve been seeing all these discussions lately with moms debating what, if anything, they should tell their young children about 9/11,  and isn’t that weird to think about? September 11, 2001 seems so recent to me, I have to remind myself that anyone younger than, say, 20 years old today probably needs to be told about 9/11 because they don’t remember it for themselves. This last decade has passed by so very fast. But then I think about my son, who is almost 7 years old, and realize that he probably doesn’t know anything about 9/11. His sweet little brain — like all of ours on September 10, 2001 — can’t readily conceive of such horrors.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed many of the comments that fall in the camp of “not planning to tell my kids anything even if they ask” are often from moms with no military connection, but it has never occurred to me to try to shield my son from the truth of that day. In his short little life he’s seen his father leave to “fight the bad guys” several times. He has never known a world without bad guys looming in our lives. He has seen several of his friends lose their fathers to war. We’ve never had the luxury of shielding him from all of the world’s horrors, so I know that he can handle the truth about 9/11. I also know exactly what I’ll say if he asks.

I will tell him that on that horrible day some very bad men stole our airplanes and crashed them into our buildings, killing thousands of our good and innocent people. He will almost certainly ask me why they did that and I will say because they are jealous of us and because their hearts are very hard and mean. He will probably keep asking why and I will keep finding ways to same the same thing over and over again until finally conceding that I don’t understand why some people are so awful, and that I hope to never understand. Then I will tell him that 9/11 is the reason his Daddy has had to leave us so many times, that his Daddy keeps going over there to fight the bad guys so that the bad guys will never hurt good people here again. I will end by reminding him that he should be proud of his Daddy for fighting to keep us safe and that he should be proud of himself, too — that he, my little boy, is doing his part for all of our people by getting by without his Daddy when war calls. And I really do believe that my son will understand that explanation.

All of that said, I do not plan to say anything unless he asks and I’m not even going to try to explain 9/11 to my 3-year-old daughter.

Elaine Sanchez wrote about this issue on DoD’s Family Matters blog. You can read what she told her 9-year-old daughter here.