How Do We Explain the Tragedy and Impact of September 11th to Our Children?

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For an easy fundraiser, a neighborhood Boy Scout troop places flags in our yards on patriotic days throughout the year, including September 11th. As we walked to the bus on September 11th, my 8-year-old naturally asked me why the flag was in our yard. As I tried break down the significance of the day to my innocent child, I found myself getting choked up as the memories came flooding in my mind.

The emotions I feel 17 years following September 11th are surprising considering how much time has passed. It has been so long that the first high school graduating class that was not alive or had just been born in 2001 will graduate this spring catapulting a generation in the world and our political scene in which September 11th is not a memory but only a moment in history to learn.

I am also surprised with the emotions that the memories of the day can still stir within me. I did not lose anyone I personally knew, and I was several states away from the day’s actions, yet events of September 11th significantly impacted my life. Despite no personal connections to the victims or the locations of the events, the attack on our country and fellow Americans were personal.

I was a 20-year-old college student when the events of September 11th occurred. Suffering from bad allergies, I had laid down to take a nap in-between classes when my roommate woke me up. She was watching the news coverage and needed the support of a friend as she continued to watch. Like everyone across the country that day, I was glued to the television screen as the events unfolded and the search for victims began. I remember even sitting through an afternoon class because our very logical science professor felt life needed to continue and encouraged us to quit crying and take notes. I am pretty sure I did poorly on whatever exam followed.

How do we relay the importance of this day to our children? Fortunately, they will likely never feel the unrest and emotion that came with experience the events of September 11th that we felt in real time. Unfortunately, they will likely experience their own September 11th at some point in the future. Reminding our children that there are many other yearly patriotic days that indicate the ability of Americans to overcome tragedy and grief will hopefully help prepare our children prepare for whatever personal or societal tragedy they may encounter in the future.

What did I tell my daughter and 5-year-old? I simply explained: September 11th was a sad day that changed lives forever, and a lot of people died that day due to some ugliness that exists in our world. The flags are to remind of us that day and how despite tragedy, our country moved on. We did not give up. Yes, those that remember the day still are saddened by the events, but there is hope because we know that despite evil in this world, we can survive, live and love.


Writer Bio: Summer Bolte

I spend most of my time and days with my three kids, husband and dog. My kids frequently play near me as I garden, cook, DIY and volunteer. My most unusual paying job has to be feeding fruit flies in a research lab, and my most fulfilling job was being an oncology nurse for seven years.  

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