Talking to Your Child About the Terrorist Tragedy

Being open with your children is key to helping them deal with a tragic event.
Being open with your children is key to helping them deal with a tragic event.

The tragedies that occurred at New York's World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, are impossible to describe. The loss of life from these terrorist attacks is devastating and frightening for us all.

How can you, as a parent, deal with the fear and anxiety that can affect your child in the wake of these horrible events? There is no single or easy answer. In part, how you respond will depend on whether members of your family have been personally involved, what your child has heard or seen on the news, and the age of your child. Here are some thoughts to consider:


  • Let your feelings show. The mixed feelings you may be experiencing — anger, sorrow, mourning — are likely being felt by your child, too. It's OK for your child to see you expressing what you both are feeling.
  • Talk about it. An event like this and its impact on you should not be minimized — not talking about it won't mean that it will go away, nor will avoiding the subject protect your child from any concerns he or she may have. Help your child understand feelings by naming them, such as "I'm so upset about what happened in New York…"
  • Listen to your child. TV news will be covering these tragedies heavily in the weeks to come, and it will be the topic of everyone's conversations. Encourage your child to tell you what he or she has heard. Some of it may not be accurate, and some details may be exaggerated. Ask your child how he or she feels, what seems scary, and what worries him or her the most. And then, where possible, reassure your child about your family's safety.
  • Remain in control. With the overwhelming dimension of this tragedy, it may seem that everything is out of control. There's bound to be a lot of fear and anxiety around. Anxiety is "contagious" - particularly for young children. It will be helpful for your child to see that your world, and theirs, are not in chaos. To the extent that it's possible, try to maintain your daily family routines.
  • Express your love for your child. Your child needs to feel safe and protected by you. Despite the widespread violence we have just witnessed, reassure your child that the danger to your family is minimal and that you are there to protect your child.
  • Spend some time with your child. Your presence alone will be comforting and provide an opportunity to talk about what happened. Some families find worshipping together, meditating, or otherwise spending time together to be particularly comforting at a time like this.

Reviewed by: Neil Izenberg, MD

Date reviewed: September 2001

Reprinted from with permission.

Copyright 2001. The Nemours Foundation.