The Children of Those Who Died in 9/11 Just Went Off to College: Discussing Death with Children

The New 9/11College Kids: Children Who Mourned Too Young

9/11 is the day to remember but the week beginning with 9/12 is the week to reflect and keep in touch with the young adults who just went off to college–those  who lost someone on 9/11. This is the first year they might be away from home when 9/11 hits home in their hearts.

These are the kids whose lives were turned upside down when they were 5 or 6 and were too young to know what struck their families. They may have sat alone in crowded rooms of grieving adults noticed or even unnoticed. That pain still turns over in their minds if no one ever helped them look for some way to sort it all out. They were the ones whose homes kept the TVs on too long and too loud for them to bear.
Look out for them this week. Sometimes the day after and the week after is harder for them than the day we all observe because no one is talking to them about it. They remember that feeling of no one talking to them about it.

Understanding Death

Some research shows that children don’t understand the finality of death until about nine years old. Before then at various younger ages, children assume it’s like sleep: you wake up. Depending on the influences of adults who teach them about ideas like life after death, heaven and hell, it’s the end and there is no more, children start to formulate their own theories. They often keep these theories to themselves as they observe life. It’s only when we notice a facial expression, a long silence, a walk alone in the woods or into their room by themselves for a bit too long, that we are cued into the notion that maybe they need to talk. Seek them out when it looks like it’s time to share feelings and ideas.

Opportunities to Learn About Death that Don’t Hit Too Hard

If your child is fortunate enough to not have experienced death of someone important to them, it helps to talk about death and losing living things in ordinary life in preparation for the unexpected. You can discuss feelings about missing people you like or love that you don’t get to see too often. You can notice when the seasons change and leaves fall off and die. You can discuss the sadness of pets that die from fish to cats.
It helps to make feelings a normal part of everyday conversation. Feelings of sadness, missing someone, missing out on something, not belonging or fitting in, waiting to see someone—all these feelings are about loss and they happen often enough to include them in the conversations of daily life. These discussions are preparation for the uncertainties of harder times that come often unexpectedly and unpredictably.

Talking to Children About What We Don’t Want to Talk About Ourselves

A major reason there isn’t enough discussion about sadness is that it is painful for adults to explore such topics with children and teens. We incorrectly assume that kids will feel what we feel when in fact their life experiences are far shorter and the ways their minds arrange facts and draw conclusions are different. When you learn that you don’t have to talk so much about what you experience but seek instead to learn what your child experiences, then the task actually becomes easier. Answer questions briefly. Children need space to develop their own ideas. It becomes about listening instead of telling.

It also becomes more selfless and humbling.


To learn about how pets are therapeutic during times of sadness click here for more Parental Intelligence.