The tragedies of September 11, 2001 unfolded before the world through the media coverage of the event including the days that followed. In this area, a television station played the image of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center 1856 times during the first week following the attacks. This type of television coverage meant that many children were exposed to distressing images that may have been hard for them to comprehend.
The television coverage of the 10th anniversary of these attacks may prove to be the single most extensive media coverage of any memorial service. Teens and young adults who were children at the time of the attacks may be re-exposed to those same distressing images during the memorial coverage. Children who were not born yet or too young to comprehend the gravity of the situation may be exposed to those images as parents relive the events of that September morning. In situations like this, it is important for parents to monitor what their children are watching and, at the same time, help them understand and cope with the situation.
Children who have been exposed to a traumatic event are afraid of many of the same things adults are afraid of: that the event will happen again; that they or their family will be hurt; or that they will be separated from family members. They may also have fears based on misconceptions of what has happened. Witnessing the images of September 11th may leave children especially frightened, insecure, or upset about what happened. They may display a variety of emotional responses after watching the memorial services and replay of the attacks. It is important to recognize that these responses are normal.
How a parent reacts will make a great difference in the child’s understanding and recovery after witnessing or reliving the distressing images. Parents should make every effort to keep the children informed about what is happening and to explain it in terms that they can understand. Remember, the attacks happened 10 years ago, but for the child witnessing the images for the first time, that child may feel as if the attacks are currently happening.
Usually a child’s emotional response to this type of situation does not last long. Be aware that some problems may not appear immediately. The memorial service images may bring back memories the child had dealt with ten years ago. Nightmares, tears, sadness and anger are all normal reactions to the re-exposure of emotional pain. Talking openly with your children will help them to recover more quickly from witnessing the images and re-opening old wounds. Reassure your child that you are there to protect him, and that your family is safe and together. Provide extra physical reassurance. Hugging, sitting close to read a book, and back rubs can help restore a child’s sense of safety. Give your child a comforting toy or something of yours to keep. Your child may be afraid of separating from you, and keeping a reminder of you close by can help. Be available as much as you can for talking with and comforting your child.