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How to help your kids understand Patriot Day

It was beautiful morning in Northern Ohio. The sky was crystal blue and the air was so crisp and clean feeling. You could just feel that fall was right around the corner. I had the unfortunate curse of the dreaded 8:00 am class that morning. I remember stepping out of the Hill Building on Ohio Northerns campus at 8:50am to make the short walk back to my house and thinking to myself... “wow what a beautiful day!” I even had the thought of blowing off the rest of my classes to “enjoy” the day. As usual, I got home to find my roommates still tucked in their beds, blissfully sleeping off the night before. So, I did what I always did... I made some buttered noodles and a dry piece of chicken on the George Forman grill (don’t judge me!! I was a broke but healthy college kid). As it started to cook, I jumped on the couch and turned on the news.... “BREAKING - A PLANE HAS HIT THE NORTH TOWER!” Something about it just didn’t seem right. As I sat there watching in disbelief, wondering to myself “how in the world does a plane hit one of the tallest buildings in the world??” It happens... from the right of the screen, live in the moment, I see it... a second plane, followed by a horrifying explosion.

I’m sure you can recount a very similar story to that dreadful Tuesday morning. It changed our lives forever. As adults we all remember the events of that morning in our own way. We tell stories of where we were. How we found out. How it made us feel. And the passion we all had deep inside our stomachs to rise up as Americans. We were literally glued to our TV’s as we watched additional planes hijacked and crashed, innocent people jumping to their deaths as they desperately attempted to escape the inferno of their former offices, and the horror on the faces of the first responders as they ran down streets of NYC trying to escape the enviable collapse of the towers. It’s forever etched into our brains.

If you’re like our family, each year on this day we wake up a little more somber than normal. You are probably spend most of your morning recounting “your story” of the days events and visualizing the scenes in your head. I also bet some of you, like us, have kids now. Kids that are getting older, that are starting to ask questions. Questions that are probably pretty hard for you to answer. Just this morning, as I drove two of my kiddos to school, my six year old hears on the radio “planes hit the tower.” She, with anxiety in her voice, asks what is happening. I literally could not come up with the right thing to say to her and what did came out was a tragic mishmash of words and phrases that only evoked more questions and more anxiety.

So, when I got to the office, I started Googling “how to talk to your kids about Patriot Day.” I thought it might be helpful to share a few of the ways to talk to our kids about this fateful day.


Answer questions with facts.

Children may have many questions about 9/11. Answer these questions with basic facts and point them to reliable sources, including, for further information.

Be specific.

It can be easy to make generalizations when discussing 9/11. The story of 9/11 is actually thousands of individual stories. Highlight those stories and emphasize specificity to help humanize the history. Avoid stereotypes and oversimplifications.


It is important to make our children feel safe to share their own memories, beliefs, and questions. Remember that our children didn’t live through this important date in our history. They’re going to have questions about who did this. Why they did it, and if it will happen again. The most important thing for you to do as a parent is listen to their feelings and reassure them that they are safe!

Know yourself.

Adults aren’t immune to the emotions sparked by 9/11. Acknowledge and attend to your own reactions and feelings, memories, and connections. 9/11 is not an easy topic to think about, let alone discuss with a child. Recognizing your feelings beforehand and then sharing them honestly with your children offers them a model for dealing with their own emotions and helps them better digest the impacts of the tragedy.

We don’t have all the answers.

It’s all right not to know the answer to every question. 9/11 is a complex subject with repercussions that are still evolving today. If you can’t answer your child’s question, be honest and use the opportunity to model yourself as a learner; you can explore the question together.


What is 9/11?

“9/11” is shorthand for a date, September 11, 2001. That day, 19 men hijacked four commercial airplanes. They intentionally flew three of the planes into buildings: the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon, the headquarters for the armed forces of the United States, located just outside Washington, D.C. The Twin Towers ultimately collapsed because of damage from the impact of the hijacked planes. Hijackers turned the fourth plane off course and headed to Washington, D.C., likely to be crashed into the U.S. Capitol building. The passengers and crew aboard that plane fought back, and the plane instead crashed into an empty field in western Pennsylvania.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed as a result of the 9/11 attacks, including people from more than 90 nations.

What was the original World Trade Center?

The original World Trade Center was a 16-acre complex in lower Manhattan, a busy part of New York City. The World Trade Center included seven buildings, a large plaza, and

an underground shopping mall. Thousands of people worked and visited there every day. The centerpieces of the complex were the Twin Towers. On September 11, 2001, the entire World Trade Center was destroyed.

What were the Twin Towers?

The 110-story Twin Towers were the tallest buildings in New York City. For a brief period, they were the tallest buildings in the world. They were called the Twin Towers because they were nearly identical. You could tell them apart, though, because the North Tower had an antenna on its roof.

The towers were well known throughout the world and famous for their size.

The North Tower, 1 WTC, stood 1,368 feet tall, and the South Tower, 2 WTC, stood 1,362 feet tall. On clear days, views could extend 45 miles from the top of the towers in every direction— far enough to see all five New York City boroughs, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Why did the terrorists do this?

The hijackers were terrorists, meaning that they used violence to try to frighten other people and impose a particular point of view. They belonged to a terrorist group called al-Qaeda. The terrorists hoped that by attacking important buildings in the United States and hurting many people, they would force the United States into changing its foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.

Love on each other today and remember that we are all Americans. And if you want to truly honor those who lost their lives on that fateful day, spend each and every day you have in front of you as if it were 9/12/01. One America!

- Brian


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