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Families may approach Sept. 11 anniversary differently

September 9, 2011 - Betsy Bethel
Several mom friends and I have been chatting via Facebook about whether or not we will be discussing what happened 10 years ago on Sept. 11 with our youngsters. Some are for being open and forthright. Others are planning to say nothing.

Still others hoping the subject doesn't come up, but if it does they plan to answer questions simply, honestly and age-appropriately. Keep in mind, these are mostly moms of kids 5-6 and younger. If you don't watch television — or make it a DVD-only weekend — it's likely Sunday will be just like any other day for them.

But parents also should be mindful that the TV is not the only place their children may hear about the terrorist attacks. There will be a special retrospective section in the newspaper Sunday with a large photo of the burning twin towers on the cover. And even some of the comic strips in the funny pages that day will be paying tribute. If your child is like mine and likes to look at the paper, you might want to do some censoring first. And if the radio is on in the car or at home, they may hear DJs or callers talking about where they were that terrible Tuesday morning.

I'm not advocating keeping our children in the dark about 9-11 forever, but I do believe there is a place and time to talk about it, and I feel strongly that parents should be the ones informing their own children, when they feel the time is right. I recently interviewed a psychologist and a parenting expert on the subject. The article appears in today's editions of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register and also can be read online by clicking the link posted with this blog.

School-age children are harder to shield. They are going to hear about the attacks one way or another. They might only know bits and pieces, and they might not even know what you're talking about if you say Sept. 11 — one mom using that phrase was met by a blank stare from her 8-year-old son until she mentioned the planes flying into the buildings. "Oh, you mean 9-11," he said.

Parents should be willing to listen and prepared with some answers. As Betsy Brown Braun, author of "Just Tell Me What To Say: Sensible Tips and Scrips for Perplexed Parents" told me: "Let’s just get you prepared because when parents have answers, they do a much better job with their kids and won’t create any additional anxiety."

Of course it's important our children are given an age-appropriate explanation if they ask about it. Braun said they should never be told not to ask questions or that their question is "silly" because that increases their fear. Parents should remain as calm as possible when talking about the attacks and stress that their children are safe.

Once children are old enough, talking about the attacks is as important as talking about World War II or other historical moments in America's history.

An online piece by Donna Gaffney, a psychiatric nurse on the advisory board for Families of September 11, puts it this way: "If we do nothing, do not talk about the event itself and its consequences, if we do not honor those who lost their lives and those who volunteered to help the victims, many of our children will not understand the significance of 9-11 to this nation or appreciate the power and historic lessons that came from it.

"Far worse is the possibility that they may only learn what the terrorists hope they'll learn: to promote fear by focusing on the death and destruction the terrorists created."

There are many commemorative events going on right here in the Ohio Valley this weekend to honor the heroes who died saving others that day. Another question among my peers is whether children should attend such events. One mom said her older children are attending and she doesn't want to leave her 5-year-old out, so she will be going with her family. Wheeling psychologist Dr. Mike Marshall said he sees no reason to keep youngsters home -- as long as they will not be a disruption. They can be told it is a celebration of American heroes.

Whatever families decide to do on this 10th anniversary of the day that changed America, I pray everyone remains safe and I thank God for those heroes who gave up their lives -- or their health -- that day and in the days, months and years following Sept. 11, 2001. I especially am moved to tears when I remember the brave souls aboard Flight 93 who stormed the cockpit and brought down the jetliner with as little loss of life as possible.

Let us never forget.


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