Helping with the Trauma of 9/11

I live in Brooklyn, by miles not far from “ground zero”. My neighborhood was affected deeply on 9/11. Neighbors died, a local firehouse 2 blocks from my office lost most of the firefighters on duty, the one on the block where I live was lucky to lose only two. Large and small scraps of paper fell from the sky much of the morning and the smell and smoke periodically came our way.

I ended up leading 24 parent workshops in the weeks after. One school I visited could see the towers burning from their classroom windows; another had soot covered downtown workers coming into their lobby for help after crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Moms and Dads who attended the workshops all had the same question: “What do we say to our children?”

In my mind the question was not just what to say but how to set up the conditions so that their children could share their thoughts and emotions with them.

As I talked about this idea people agreed. One Mom recounted her 4-year-old daughter saying, “Mom, why did the ladies fly into the building?” At first puzzled the Mom eventually remembered that her daughter had once been on a plane piloted by a woman and the experience had made a big impression. Another mother remembered that her infant son had been n a snuggly when she went up to her roof to see what was going on. She began screaming and shaking when she saw the smoke and couldn’t stop. At the workshop she realized that her little one had been screaming more the last day or so and that she needed to give her baby a chance to express what that morning had been like for him.

Luckily we don’t often have to live through 9/11s but it is likely that loss or serious upset will cross our door sometime while raising our families.

Understanding that creating space for children to share their experiences and ask questions on their own terms, in their own time frame and in their own way is an important first step.