The date September 11, 2001 became etched in history 12 years ago. How do you explain to kids the sheer magnitude of what happened? And how do you reassure them about the acts of terrorism on U.S. soil?

Teaching kids about September 11, 2001

For so many people in the U.S., September 11, 2001 is a day forever engraved so deeply in memory that it could have been yesterday. That Tuesday, the brilliant blue sky, warm sunlight and crisp morning air striking in its beauty was shattered when everything changed fundamentally in an instant.

But for children — both those who were very young on that day and those that hadn't yet been born — the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are a little removed. What were they? What does it mean? And how did it all change our world?

As parents, it's our job to explain these things to our children.

Explaining 9/11 to kids

Whether your children are in preschool, elementary, middle or high school, it's important that you speak about that tragic and devastating day with them so that they understand the heartbreak that America collectively felt. September 11, 2001 is a part of our modern history. How should you do it?

Be real

Honesty is important when talking about September 11 with your children, so don't be afraid to share how you really felt that day. "Kids pick up on how you really feel beneath your words. They will become more frightened because now they know they can't trust you to tell them the truth," says Carole Lieberman, M.D., psychiatrist and author of Coping with Terrorism: Dreams Interrupted.

Do something

There are so many opportunities to turn the pain of September 11 into something more positive. Mark this year's anniversary with actions that help someone else — or remember those that were lost. "Do something as a family on 9/11 to memorialize the day and pay tribute to those who died. For example, go to your house of worship, light a candle at home and say a prayer, donate money to a 9/11 fund for survivors," says Lieberman.

Be proactive

Terrorism didn't end with the death of Osama Bin Laden. It's OK to explain that to your kids so they understand that although there is still a threat of terrorism, there is a lot being done to prevent another attack from happening. "Talk about the ongoing threat of terrorism and how you will prepare as a family by doing things to keep yourselves healthy — psychologically and physically," says Lieberman.

Using books to talk about the attacks

Books can really help you with explaining 9/11 to kids, when you aren't sure where to start. "Sometimes it's hard to know what to say. But there are lots of age-appropriate children's books about 9/11 that can help get the conversation going," says Michael D. Baran, Ph.D., a cultural anthropologist and director of Cambridge Diversity Consulting.

Here are a few that might be good for your kids:

Keep it age appropriate

Older children are probably ready to hear and see more about the attacks so that they can understand what happened more deeply. But for younger children, it's enough to be truthful without sharing everything. "To the younger children they will be told that there are some people who do not like our country. These bad people thought that it was important to hurt the United States in a very bad way. What they did caused many people to die and suffer much pain," says Lorna Kemper, a 1st grade teacher at Gethsemane Lutheran School in Tempe, Arizona.

And really, isn't that what it's really about? In the simplest of terms, the attacks of 9/11 came down to decisions that were made to hurt innocent people because of a hatred for the country that we love. Teach your children to take pride in the country they live in by honoring days such as 9/11 each year. Most adults will remember vividly in the days, weeks and months following the attacks how many homes raised an American flag and flew it proudly. Fly your flag and remember those who were lost, and you not only help your kids learn, you help our country band together.

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Comments on "How to talk to your kids about 9/11"

Charles D. Windham September 11, 2013 | 7:55 PM

A years ago there was what we Americans thought was another normal day here in America. There are always different people,other countries that don't like America,and like to do harm to people like daddy,mama,fireman,policemen,doctors,nurses. These bad people came one day in America,and they took some big planes that these bad people took,and flew them into some big tall buildings called The World Trade Centers where a lotos people worked,and the planes hit the buildings,and caused the buildings to catch on fire,and in time the buildings fell to the grown killing all the good people which there were mamas,and daddies,and fireman,and policemen in the buildings trying to help get the people out of the buildings. In just a little while the buildings fell like when you stack blocks up sometimes,and then you knock them down. These bad people caused the buildings to fall like when you knocked over the blocks,but when the buildings fell many people died,and got hurt real bad,and their families could never see their loved one again,because the rescue people could not find the people that were in the building. That is why mama,and daddies try to teach you how to be safe,and careful,and not all people we can trust because there are bad people out their that will hurt us. That is why mama,and daddy always try to protect you,and teach you ways to protect yourself when you get bigger. It is not always possible to protect ourselves,and we must trust In God to protect us from harm,and hurt. We must never forget the ones who died at The World Trade Centers,and pray for the families that lost their daddies,or mommies,and friends because they loved them. God Bless America,and thank Our Soldiers who went to catch the bad guys who did this,and also many of our brave soldiers died fighting the bad men who killed our friends that day of 9/11.

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