With the anniversary of 9/11 coming up, you may be considering taking your kids to the National September 11 Memorial Museum. Understandably, visiting this museum is an experience like no other, and you’ll want to make sure both you and the kids are prepared. Here’s what to know before you go.
Before you visit
Ask your kids what they want to know and provide direct answers. “Less is better—think simple explanations,” says John Kelly, PhD, school psychologist and National Association of School Psychologists leader. When the “Why did this happen?” question pops up, try something like, “Some people do not like our country and wanted to hurt the U.S.” David Schonfeld, MD, FAAP, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, adds, “Share some information and make sure they [go] in with an understanding of what happened, what it means to their family.” More important, says Schonfeld, “Make sure they want to go.” If they don’t—skip it.
At the memorial
Before entering the museum itself, you’ll walk through the memorial—a 16-acre site featuring two waterfalls and reflecting pools. “The space is contemplative and not overwhelming,” says Schonfeld. “You should feel comfortable bringing a child of any age to the memorial.” Even if you decide your kids are too young for the full museum experience (which is a perfectly appropriate decision), you can just sit by the pools and talk about what happened on 9/11 at whatever level is right for your kid.
In the museum
You’ll begin at ground level and descend through several exhibits showing a timeline of the day’s events. The displays become more emotionally intense as you go, so keep an eye on how your kids handle it. “When people are in places where they’re exposed to information that’s sad, they often think about other sad experiences,” says Schonfeld. So if your 5-year-old suddenly becomes clingy or your 13-year-old brings up cancer, don’t panic—this is a normal reaction and may mean they need to talk or feel a sense of safety. Monitor your own reactions, too. “Young children didn’t live the experience,” says Schonfeld. “To see adults in their lives in distress, it’s distressing.” So as you think, “I remember what I was doing at that moment, I felt really scared,” share with your kids how you coped—this will teach them resilience.
After you visit
Answer your kids’ questions using Kelly’s direct approach, focusing on the heroic acts from 9/11 and our nation’s (and your) resilience in the aftermath, suggests Schonfeld. Keep the conversation going over the next few weeks. Fears that your kids don’t necessarily connect to the museum but that are connected to sadness (like worrying a family member is ill) may spring up, and you will want to talk them through it.
National September 11 Memorial Museum
Liberty St., New York City, NY 10006