Saturday, August 27, 2022

Enriching Education: Talking About 9/11

Global Game Changers Children’s Education Initiative, Inc. (GGC), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization providing social-emotional learning (SEL) and character and leadership development curricula for pre-K through 5th-grade students, encourages a delicate approach when teaching younger children about the events of September 11, 2001. The events of that day may feel recent to adults, most of whom lived through the events of that morning and can recall where they were when news of the terrorist attacks broke, yet something that took place 21 years ago feels like another era to children.

The events of 9/11 hold a powerful, useful lesson for younger children: understanding that we can overcome tragic events if we work together. GGC shares these eight tips for talking to younger children about 9/11.

1. Check your vocabulary
Young kids don’t have the nuance or ability to understand some of the bigger terms you might associate with 9/11: “radical Islam,” “weapons of mass destruction,” “terrorism,” etc. Consider using terms that children can understand, such as “problem,” “solution,” “hurt,” “afraid,” “helper.” For kids younger than 10, you might say, “In New York and Washington, D.C. some bad people flew planes into buildings. Many people were hurt and many people were afraid. In fact, that’s what the bad guys wanted.”

2. Be knowledgeable
Even if you have clear and vivid memories of 9/11, brush up on your facts. Kids will ask a variety of questions, so you will want to be prepared. In case they come up with a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t make up an answer. You can either say “I’ll find out and let you know,” or you can search for the answer together.

3. Have a purpose in mind
Make sure you know the ultimate lesson you’re trying to convey from your conversation. We recommend three goals: 1) There was an event called 9/11 that impacted the entire country. 2) There were many heroes as a result of that day. 3) Although we were faced with tragedy, we emerged triumphant.

4. Know your audience
Different children have different capacities for understanding events in the news. Broadly speaking, children younger than 10 tend to internalize events and are less able to separate what happened to other people from what happened to themselves. By contrast, children older than 10 are less likely to internalize something like 9/11, and thus less likely to be scared for their own safety.

5. Don’t hesitate to use tools
Global Game Changers’ website is focused on helping kids in kindergarten through fifth grade understand and process 9/11 with a video, virtual galleries, interactive activities, and service projects. You can also check out some amazing children’s books written about 9/11.

6. Read the room
Learning about 9/11 can bring up difficult feelings of loss and fear for some children. Be alert to those signs in your own children, and especially in a larger setting like a classroom, where you may be less aware of each child’s past experiences. Allow for some quiet space to think and reflect.

7. Remember the positive
Although 9/11 was a tragic event with widespread consequences, help kids focus on the positive. Integrating heroic stories of familiar figures – firefighters, EMTs, and police officers – will help kids feel less scared. Older kids may connect to the stories of everyday people who stepped up on that day and in the days afterwards to help.

8. Explore 9/11’s remnants today
Remind kids that we have not had an attack like 9/11 since that day 21 years ago. If your children are familiar with air travel, you can tell them how airport security has changed to keep us safe. Numerous cities across the United States have also created their own 9/11 memorials, so you might plan a visit to one close to your home.

Many lives were lost on 9/11, so it is important to be sensitive when sharing anything with a younger child about the events. It can provide a rich history lesson when taught properly.

I had a chance to learn more in this interview with Jan Helson of Global Game Changers.

Why is it important for adults to be prepared to talk to kids about 9/11?
First of all, 9/11 is still a defining moment in our country's recent history. Your kids may be learning about it at school, or may hear about it on the news. Being prepared to answer your kid's questions, should they come up, is better than not knowing what to say. Second of all, our country has worked to transform the memory of 9/11 into a positive event, and now it is a National Day of Service along with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. So it's a great day to start the conversation about service and giving back as well.

How can adults use 9/11 to help kids learn to look at important historical events?
Many historical events can be filled with horror or fear, just as 9/11 was; however, Global Game Changers 9/11 Lesson focuses on the heroes that rose in response to this event more than the tragedy that occurred. Exploring the stories of courage, resilience, and lessons learned can help kids understand historical events and their impact. We have a number of stories collected in our Virtual Museum Real-Life Heroes Gallery on And, as they grow older, they can begin to understand how you can live in and react with fear, or you can do your part to make the world a better place. That's a lesson our kids can learn, even in terms of our country's ongoing recovery from the pandemic.

Why is it important to help kids learn to look for the positive, even in tragedy?
While it's important to acknowledge and validate the feelings that come with tragedy, our children - and we as humans - can only move forward with understanding and hope for a better outcome or brighter future. Feeling the responsibility to help in and support that brighter future will not only help children process difficult events, but also motivate them towards recovery, whether it be global or personal. Explore the service projects on to see how we start small in helping kids connect the history of the past to their own ability to make a difference today.

About Global Game Changers
Global Game Changers Children’s Education Initiative, Inc. (GGC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization providing social-emotional learning (SEL) and character and leadership development programs that empower students to overcome apathy, feel empathy, and foster a sustainable connection to service. To support this mission, GGC offers a free superhero-themed curriculum (MY TALENT + MY HEART = MY SUPERPOWER!®) to schools, after-school programs, and summer programs reaching more than 1,000 schools and 250,000 students in 49 states and 13 countries around the world. The pre-K through 5th grade curriculum is made possible by the Novak Family Foundation, who believes in equitable access for all educators and students. For more information or to get involved, visit

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