We can be sure that there will be a large number of community events and memorials on the upcoming tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Fathers around the world, and particularly in the United States, were confronted with the need to openly discuss the attacks in their immediate aftermath in 2001. What lessons did we learn that might apply to the anniversary of these horrific attacks on our civilization?
Our Children as Victims. As we all learned in 2001, we are all victims in one way or another of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and of the near miss of at least one other American icon. Our children are special victims because of their need for security and comfort in their world. In many ways, it is easier for adults to conceptualize the impact of terrorism; children have a hard time and tend to feel more at risk than adults do. As fathers, we have to recognize that our children may feel the trauma of 9/11 as it is remembered this year, and perhaps more intensely than we do.
Don't Close the Dialogue Door. Certainly at home and at school this year, the children will talk about the anniversary. The September 11 attacks have become much more than a footnote in American history. Only time will tell how significant these events will be historically. But from an educational perspective, it is important to talk about the impact of September 11 on American life and culture. Be ready for a discussion anytime around the 11th. Media retrospectives will be everywhere, and continued community memorials are likely in many locales. Keep the lines of communication open and be willing to do a lot of listening.
- Show respect for their feelings, whether you agree or not. Don't belittle, cut them off or say things like "That's ridiculous."
- Try gently probing and exploring their thoughts to help them verbalize. Comments such as "Tell me more about that" or "What exactly do you mean by that" are helpful.
- Watch for the non verbal cues. Watch your children's eyes when they are talking. Watch for tension, gestures and so on. There are many ways to get and send messages without words.
- Accept their feelings. If they feel afraid with all of the reminiscing, it's okay to let them know that you do too, but that you have found ways to cope with those feelings.
Sharing Your Coping Skills. Adults are usually more adept and experienced at coping with uncertainty than children are. Talk about what you do to address your fears. Help them see that society has changed to address uncertainty. For example, talk about tightened airport security, review what your child's school has done to improve safety and security, and help them to see that they have a role to play in their own neighborhood and community.
Attending Community or Religious Memorials. Many communities around the country will hold memorial services, as are many churches. Consider attending one of these with your children. The messages of hope and the understanding of the passage of time will be helpful, and will likely open doors to their feelings and thoughts.
Conclusion. Keep the lines of communication open. Do a lot of listening and reassuring. And look for ways to help your children cope. With some simple preparation and advance planning, you can help make the September 11 anniversary an opportunity for learning and comfort for your children.