The oldest students at Hampton Lutheran, our sixth graders, are 11 or 12 this year. At earliest, they were born in 2006, five years after the terrorist attack on our nation on Sept. 11, 2001. Many of our HLS students were born years after 9/11.
Think about that.
None of them were alive when it happened; they don’t have memories of that day or of life before it. They don’t have a context for how it changed American life, culture, and politics; they don’t know the grief and doubt it caused. They haven’t heard the stories of the courageous men and women who gave their lives to help others that day.
But at some point in their lives and education, children have to learn about 9/11—how it changed our country and the stories we tell about it. Kids will learn that the events their history books talk about happened to real people—even people they know—and affected the lives of people just a few years older than them. How we frame that discussion is very important.
So how do you talk about 9/11 with kids who don’t remember it? There is no one solution—it takes several honest, open conversations with them both at home and school to convey the sense of loss and tragedy and why the event is so important to our nation.
How we talk about 9/11 with kids at school
Teachers talk with their classrooms about 9/11. Upper graders read current event articles that fit into the school’s God’s World curriculum. They also have access to books in the school library that talk about the terrorist attacks.
Our fifth and sixth grade teacher, Jean Carnoali, always tells her current students the story of the students in her class in 2001 and how they read through the Psalms to find the answers to the difficult questions that arose during and after the tragedy. HLS teachers teach students that during difficult times, they can turn to God’s Word for comfort and reassurance that God is with them and that Jesus Christ is the same, no matter what’s happening in our world.
How you can talk about 9/11 with kids at home
When you talk with your children about 9/11, tell them about the freedoms we have as Americans. These freedoms are so precious—yet we take them for granted. Talk about the larger issues surrounding 9/11, such as showing love and concern for our neighbors and the freedom to worship.
Of course, children are always awestruck by the videos and images from that day at the World Trade Center. Deciding whether to show these to your children is up to you, depending on their age and maturity. We shouldn’t encourage children to get caught up in the horrors, but rather talk about the stories of the people affected.
There are so many stories of people sacrificing for others and helping each other. Focus on these stories of heroic acts, like the first responders who rushed into burning buildings to save others. Don’t focus on the hate of the group of terrorists who attacked; rather, focus on the positives.
Share with your children what you were doing that day, what you remember about it, and how it made you feel. Answer the questions as best you can, but acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. Be open and honest. Assure them that you love them and will do everything you can to protect them and that God loves them and will be with them.