As parents, we try to shield our children from harm, danger, and the horrors of the world. Now, as a parent looking back at my childhood, nothing could have prepared me for the tragedy I witnessed on Sept. 11, 2001.
The lives of so many changed in a matter of minutes, 1 hour and 42 minutes to be exact; that is how long it took the Twin Towers to collapse after being struck by Flight 11.
I began my first semester as a 7th grader at Ruddiman Middle School in Detroit. I vividly remember our class assignment and each moment leading up to the attacks and watching the crumbling towers as debris-covered pedestrians ran for cover during the chaotic scene.
I remember my teacher at the time receiving a phone call. She walked over to her desk, opened the drawer to pull out the remote, and proceeded to turn on the television mounted up on the wall right above the chalkboard. As she flicked through the news channels, we all began to notice each news station covering the same chaotic scene with images and videos of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, canceled airline flights, pedestrians on the street, and images of the high jackers who lived among us before the planned attack.
Then, after hearing an announcement over the P.A. system, the attack’s realization began to sink in; terrorists had attacked America!
Teachers were chatting quietly in the hallway as a security lockdown was issued, and my mother called the office to let them know she was picking me up from school.
On the car ride home, news of the attacks flooded the radio stations. I don’t remember my mother fully explaining the attacks or trying to help me process what I had just witnessed at the young age of 12.
Fast forward, 20 years as a mother of two myself, I now understand how hard explaining what took place on September 11th must’ve been.
The last 18 months have been difficult for both parents and children amid the Covid-19 pandemic, sudden changes made for the upcoming school year, and now the 20th anniversary of the events of September 11th that will spark emotion.
Because most of us all have been glued to our phones, the news, and other social media outlets, there’s a chance that my children and even yours may pick up on something and asks questions.
While visiting New York last week, I had an opportunity to pay to visit tribute to those who lost their lives on a traumatic day at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum World Trade Center.
Safely distanced, wearing masks, many captured photos, walked around the water and glanced around as I ran my fingers against the carved names of those who lost their life on Flight 11, imagining who they were and, reflecting on what each of them meant to someone.
The memorial was quiet but alive with spirits of remembrance and renewal, a beacon of healing. As I saw adults with children looking down at the waterfalls, I knew that this anniversary would be the one I’d finally talk to my children about terrorism.
If you plan to talk to your children about the events of September 11th, here is some advice for you: Offer a safe space for children to share their thoughts and questions.
As an educator, I know firsthand the importance of actively listening to their concerns, validating their emotions, and encouraging conversation without forcing it. Be prepared to answer questions honestly and with facts, share specific stories of survivors or first responders to help humanize the event, and avoid stereotypes.
Be aware of your tone and body language and remain calm; emotions vary. We want to make sure children are met with the reassurance of their safety and remind them that safety measures have been put into place, like extra screening at airports.
Affirm the hope, resilience and unity displayed in the aftermath of the attack.
Your family can also participate in the observance on September 11th by sharing a tribute at neverforget.org and a moment of silence on September 11 at any of the times marking key moments on that tragic day.
Despite our shared grief in the aftermath of 9/11, hope, resilience and unity lifted us as a nation. Remind children of how their own compassion can prevent future acts of intolerance and violence.
As the new school year approaches for many of them remind, remind them to express their ideas respectfully and to treat people who are different from themselves with kindness.
And lastly, help children to identify ways they can help others, whether those directly impacted by the event or others in need in their own community.
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