Expert offers guidance on how to talk to kids about 9/11

Michael de Arellano

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks played out in the media in real time, with people all over the world glued to live coverage on their televisions and computers.

Today, even children who were very young or not born yet are aware of the events of the day. It has become part of their lives through movies, cultural references, news reports, friends and relatives.

And with the anniversary looming, media coverage could confuse them.

"(It) seems like it might be best to talk openly with one's children rather than ignore something that has had such a huge impact," said parent Ryan Taylor during a live online chat Wednesday on

Michael de Arellano, a professor and licensed clinical psychologist at the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, Department of Psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina, agreed.

"Even though the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred 10 years ago, the increased attention being given to the anniversary of the attacks can have an effect on children," he said. "It is very important to be available to talk to children about it. Chances are, they are going to hear about it."

Parents should limit exposure for younger children, who may have difficulty understanding that they are watching a replay of the attacks, he said. Even school-age children should be protected from graphic images.

"Some children may want to talk about it, while others will prefer to avoid the subject completely," he said. "The important thing to watch for is changes in behavior."

Children can exhibit signs of depression, nervousness, aggression, worry or irritability, he said.

"Children could inadvertently be exposed to distressing and frequent coverage as their parents watch it," he said. "When children do watch it, it is important that a caregiver be available to talk about the coverage and answer any questions they may have."

Answer questions honestly, without over-talking, he said.

"If the question is something like 'Will this happen again?' you really can't answer that with any certainty," he said. "That's OK. You can say that there are lots of people that work very hard every day to help keep something like this from happening again and that all their hard work makes it much less likely that it is going to happen again."

Parents can find additional information online at the National Child Traumatic Stress Network ( and at the American Psychological Association (

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or on Facebook.