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How to Talk to Your Kids About 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden

Experts say to reassure children that they are safe. Monitor what they are watching on television, as some images on the news can be scary for younger viewers and may cause anxiety.

Osama bin Laden’s death is , along with images of 9/11, and interviews with families who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks. Parents may have a hard time explaining to their children who bin Laden was, what happened and what it might mean.

Experts say it is important to make sure kids aren’t feeling anxiety and to reassure them they are safe.

Dr. Robert Sahl, Medical Director of Child and Adolescent Services at The Institute of Living in Hartford, said younger children may have no interest or may have a difficult time understanding what has happened. He recommends pitching it in a simplistic level — that a man who hurt other people in the world was killed.

“Follow the child’s lead and answer questions that come up, but don’t go into details,” Sahl said.

“It is a little tricky because it involves the aspects of good and evil,” he said. “That makes it tricky to explain to certain ages.”

For school-age children, Sahl said parents can make the connection to 9/11 and ask if they know what happened then or if they have heard of it. Then explain that the man people believe is responsible for that attack was killed.

“It can be difficult, because they may ask why he was killed and not arrested, you may want to say they didn’t have the opportunity to arrest him,” he said.

A teenager is able to understand more, so gear explanations developmentally to them. But teens may understand better the outrage about what happened on 9/11.

Sahl said details about how bin Laden was killed are not necessary. He recommends parents try to limit exposure to the news, sometimes watching events over and over can be traumatic in and of itself.

Also, be aware this type of event may be discussed on many channels, for example they were talking about it on ESPN because people learned about the event during the Phillies/Mets baseball game.

“Try not to dwell on it, explain it but then move on,” Sahl said.

Jayne Noel, a licensed clinical social worker at Kidz Matter Counseling in Enfield, said it is important to monitor what children are watching on television, as some images on the news can be scary for younger viewers and may cause anxiety.

“It is important to reassure kids that they are safe and that adults and the military are working to keep the world a safe place,” she said.

Noel said she explained it to one youngster on Monday by saying we have been trying to capture this person to make the world safer.  To explain why people might be , you could say they are supporting the military, she said.

Noel said younger children will not understand what is happening. Children ages 4-6 start to understand death, but may think it is temporary or reversible.

Children ages 8-10 understand death better and may be curious about it. Children ages 10 and older have a pretty clear understanding and may ask more questions about what is happening and what it means.

“It will bring up conversations at , at the playground or on the bus, and kids may be talking about it, so it is important for parents to talk with their children,” she said. “You don’t need to go into details, and each family will handle the moral and religious aspects individually.”

Denise LaPre, a psychologist at in East Windsor, said it is important to choose your words carefully.

“Children understand more than we realize, they are exposed to so much more now,” she said.

LaPre said she would explain it by saying that 10 years ago this bad man killed a lot of people in America and that we have been trying to find him for a long time. When he was found he tried to escape and fight and he was killed by U.S. soldiers.

“Keep it simple, but include facts,” LaPre said. “Something we try to teach kids is that they need to take responsibility for their actions, so you can talk about how he needed to take responsibility for what he did.”

Have you talked to your children about 9/11 and the death of Osama bin Laden? How did you handle it?

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