Today I did my very best to explain what September 11th meant to Mr. C. He’s 6 and wildly curious, so I’ve been expecting this question for a while now. How do you explain such a horrific event to a child so young and innocent? You can’t sugar coat it. That would do a terrible injustice to all of the victims, first responders, and their families from that day. But you can’t share too many details and really scare your child.
I think that I found the best balance that I could today teaching him about September 11th. If you’re like me and overwhelmed about how to teach your children about 9/11, this is the post for you. I’m not saying that I did it exactly right. I’m just a mom navigating the new waters of children growing up in a completely post-9/11 world, and I thought I would share 6 Important Truths I’m Teaching My Kids About September 11th.
6 Important Truths I’m Teaching My Kids About September 11th
I Grew Up in the September 11th Aftermath
On September 11, 2001, I was in second grade. I had never heard the word “terrorism” in my entire life, and I had no understanding of people in the world truly hating others and committing such heinous acts against people. I hadn’t even learned about the Holocaust yet. I wasn’t at all prepared for what would happen that morning.
I heard my dad scream “It’s the terrorists!” from the living room as I was lying in bed arguing with my older sister about who was allowed to get up and get ready first, and we both went to find out what he was yelling about. I thought that “the terrorists” were a football team, because that was the only reason my dad ever yelled at the tv.
We watched the news for the rest of the morning before school. Once at school the teachers wouldn’t really talk to us about what happened, and they tried to go about the day as normally as they could. We couldn’t help but notice that they seemed distracted and kept whispering to each other.
In the weeks, months, and years that followed, my understanding of what happened on 9/11 and terrorism has evolved. When I was first learning as a small and sheltered second grader, I had the most basic understanding. There were some bad guys who wanted to start a war with America because they didn’t like our freedoms, so they flew airplanes into very important buildings to start that war.
Now that I’m older, I have a broader understanding of these world issues. Different religions. Different countries. Different values and beliefs. This is the type of understanding that I want to teach my son. When the world understands each other, this hatred, this terrorism, it just doesn’t happen.
Scary Things Happen in This World
If you’ve met me, you’ll know that I tend to “shelter” my kids from hatred, danger, and the general ugliness that this world sometimes has for us. We don’t play guns. We watch mainly preschool shows. We don’t pass protestors with graphic signs.
Will that work forever? No. Mr. C is 6, but intellectually he’s about 9, and he’s already asking more questions. He wants to know about politics, and he has questions about the darker sides of history.
The fact is, scary things happen in this world. There are scary, mean people. Countries go to war. People will kill people for reasons that we won’t ever understand. Some people will do things that are simply unimaginable.
In fact, most great tragedies are completely unimaginable. So don’t try to imagine what “could happen”. Whatever is going to happen will happen. Don’t spend too much time wondering and fearing what scary things you will encounter, just take things as they come.
There Will Always Be Helpers
Just like there will always be scary people and scary things happening around the world, there will also always be helpers. We talked to Mr. C about 9/11, and we emphasized the incredible bravery seen that day.
Police, firefighters, ambulance drivers, military members, and everyday people did everything they could that day.
I will teach my children that when everyone was running out of the building, firefighters ran in. I will teach my children that when they learned their plane was being hijacked and could hurt many other people, the everyday people on flight United 93 decided to take on the hijacker. I will teach my children how many people were saved by their bravery.
I will teach my children that volunteers dug through rubble for survivors for 18 days, even when many thought there was “no hope”. I will teach them of the city in Canada that welcomed passengers of a landed plane who were stranded.
There will always be helpers. Always. When the world seems the most dark, look for the light. Look for the helpers.
Hatred of “Others” is a Terrible, Scary Thing
If 9/11 and the wars that have followed have taught me anything, it’s that a hatred of “others” is a terrible and scary thing. Nearly every major world war, tragedy, and atrocity has been caused by a hatred of the “others”.
During the Holocaust there was a hatred of the Jewish people. During slavery, it was a hatred of black people. The Rwandan genocide was a hatred of Tutsi people. 9/11 was a hatred of Americans. Internment camps were from a hatred of Japanese Americans.
When a large group of people starts hating those that society has labeled “others”, we’re in trouble. The scariest part is that it’s disturbingly easy to find examples of this every day. There are obviously large societal struggles with the hatred of others. Racism, homophobia, religious wars, etc.
But we can see this on a smaller scale in the people around us and sometimes even ourselves. It can start as simply as the bully on the playground. Maybe you don’t want to play with that girl because she has glasses. Maybe she wears a headscarf. Maybe he has a wheelchair.
I will teach my children that hating people for their differences is unacceptable. It’s scary. It’s wrong. Always.
Americans Can Come Together in Unity
When I grew up, we learned the Pledge of Allegiance in school, and we recited it every morning. What we didn’t learn? The actual meaning. Just one simple word in the pledge has stuck with me since 9/11 when I was so young.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like all America does is divide. Democrat or Republican. Blue Lives Matter or Black Lives Matter. Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Build a Wall or Give them Amnesty. Bathroom Bills or Anti-Discrimination. Let Syrian Refugees in or Keep Them Out. Divide. Divide. Divide.
But on September 12th, 2001? None of it mattered. People who hated George Bush dropped everything to listen to him speak. There was no questioning whether someone was black or white, gay or straight, man or woman, democrat or republican.
We were all Americans that day. Every one of us.
I will teach my children that America was truly One Nation on that day. I will teach them to understand that unity and hold onto that unity when it feels like the entire country is divided.
Remember History, Embrace the Future
Overall, I will teach my children about September 11th. Maybe I’m teaching them earlier than other people would. Maybe you think I’m starting the conversation too late. But I am determined to teach my children what happened September 11th.
I will teach them to learn and remember history. They will remember the scary events of that day. They will remember the bravery and unity that was shown. They will remember how the events started a war. They will not have a “where I was” memory, but I will make sure they learn and they remember.
But I will also teach them to embrace the future. 9/11 was a tragic event in our history, but Americans healed, grew, and got back to work. A new generation is joining the military and becoming first responders. We as a country have a new understanding of our freedoms and tolerance.
As a new generation, I want my kids to understand that they have a unique opportunity to learn from events that have happened in my lifetime and lifetimes before me so that the events that they’re teaching to their children won’t be quite as horrific.
And maybe my great grandkids or my great-great-grandkids won’t have a story like mine to share from a scary September day when I was in just second grade, thinking that “terrorists” were a football team.
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