Explaining 9/11 to our children

September 11 is coming. Why talk about it with our kids? 

While none of our young children were alive to experience 9/11, it still affects our country and is an important piece of American history. And all of us can, no doubt, remember exactly where we were when we heard the news. 

**If your child is young (7 or under), there’s no need to rush into this conversation. You know your children best and what is appropriate for them. However, if they’ve heard rumors about what happened and have questions, it may be a great time to have a conversation.**

Here are some ideas as you navigate the topic of 9/11 with your children: 

  1. Keep it simple and age-appropriate. For young children, ask what they already know to give you a starting point for sharing basic details or correcting misinformation. You might say, “Over 20 years ago on this day, two planes hit two very tall buildings in New York City. We remember the people who lost their lives that day and pray that God would bring their families peace.” For older children, you might add information about the terrorist group who backed the attack. You might also research the heroic first responders who sacrificed their lives that day. There’s no need to show graphic video or images. Keep reading for book recommendations to help you explain the story.
  2. Talk through feelings. It may be appropriate to share where you were when you heard the news and how you felt when it happened. Children may feel scared that this kind of event could happen again. In reality, we live in a fallen, sin-ridden world and it could. But remind them that our good and faithful God is in control and he holds the future. Encourage them to bring their fears to God in prayer.
  3. “Look for the helpers.” When Mr. Rogers was a little boy and would see scary things on the news, his mother would say, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." This approach - looking for the helpers - is a great way to discuss traumatic events with children. We can explain the tragedy of that day, but also remind them that there is hope. As you read these recommended books that tell the story of 9/11, encourage your children to look for the helpers. You'll find them in every one of these true, courageous stories.
  4. Remind children of our future hope. If you trust Jesus for salvation, you will spend eternity with God where there will be no more terrorism, destruction, fear, pain, or death. We will live in peace with God and with others forever (Rev. 21:4). What a glorious future!

For younger children:

30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag by Amanda Davis - This is the inspiring true story of the American flag that flew over Ground Zero, traveled across all fifty states as it was repaired by thousands of Americans, and returned to New York as a restored symbol of unity.

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy - This tells the true story of an unexpected and heartfelt gift from the Maasai people to the United States during a time of grief and uncertainty. Emphasizes kindness and empathy in the aftermath of 9/11. 

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman - The John J. Harvey - a former fireboat in NYC - had been retired for 6 years. But on September 11, a call came from the fire department, asking if the Harvey could battle the roaring flames. This is a fascinating true story of real life heroes. 

Branches of Hope: The 9/11 Survivor Tree by Ann Magee - A moving story about the Survivor Tree, a Callery pear tree that survived the attacks of 9/11 and now grows tall in the 9/11 memorial as a sign of hope. There's an interesting wordless story that accompanies the story of the tree of a young girl who grows up to be a first responder like her uncle. This is a wonderful choice for young children as it only alludes to the events of 9/11 and leaves room for the parent to fill in the details. 

This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth by Sean Rubin - Another story about the Survivor Tree. This book also doesn't directly describe what happened on September 11, but alludes to it in a way that will likely prompt children to ask questions.

Chapter books:

Escape from the Twin Towers (Ranger in Time #11) by Kate Messner - Ranger, a time-traveling Golden Retriever with search-and-rescue training, travels to NYC on the morning of the 9/11 attacks. This is a gentle introduction to a traumatic event and would make a wonderful read-aloud for younger children or independent read for older children. 

I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001: Graphic Novel by Lauren Tarshis - You can also read the original text without the illustrations here:  I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001. Either of these choices are the perfect introduction for middle grades to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The graphic novel includes a nonfiction section at the back with facts and photos about the real-life event of 9/11.

Saved by the Boats by Julie Gassman - Amid the chaos of 9/11, sea captains and crews raced by boat to the tragic Manhattan scene. Nearly 500,000 people on Manhattan Island were rescued that day in what would later be called the largest sea evacuation in history. This is a rarely told story of “the helpers” of 9/11.