A Primer for Children: How To Talk About Sept. 11 and Afghanistan

September 09, 2021

The lives of those in the military community were changed in tangible and intangible ways following 9/11. As a community, we’ve learned a lot, as we endured the longest war in our nation’s history. We’ve seen deployments, said goodbyes and we’ve missed family events and milestones. The events of Sept. 11 seeped into areas of our life in ways we never could have imagined. And many members of our community have felt it every day.


We’ve explained things to our children that — understandably — often don’t land on Americans’ radars; this was on full display as we explained the emotions surrounding the conclusion of Operation Enduring Freedom. Through all of this, we’ve done some things well, others poorly. We’ve cried. We’ve stumbled. But, at the end of this, we’ve learned so much. So, today, we are here to pay it forward. Below, you will find tips for talking to your children about these difficult topics, including 9/11 and the conclusion of Operation Enduring Freedom. Many of these suggestions have been learned through lived experience — some because things worked, others because they didn’t. Military Family Advisory Network and Military Child Education Coalition offer ways to handle these sensitive and important topics, explore emotions, and be there for the children we care about.


A Primer for Children: How To Talk About Sept. 11 and Afghanistan

It’s hard to comprehend that enough time has passed that an entire generation — or two — of Americans has grown up in the shadow of Sept. 11. For those people, America has always been at war, even if it’s been in a distant country. But it’s not distant for all: For military families living and breathing our nation’s longest war, it has taken a heavy toll. We know how difficult it can be to talk with our children about deployments and conflict, grief and loss and cultural differences. That’s why we’ve created simple, effective prompts for starting the conversation.


It is important to consider your child’s age before speaking to them about complex and emotionally delicate subjects.


Signs Children May Be Worried. With the 24-hour news cycle and social media, it is likely that your children are going to hear about 9/11 or the war in Afghanistan. Your kids may not come to you directly to talk about these topics or ask questions, but here are a few things you can look out for.

  • Watch and listen for signs that your child is preoccupied.
  • Children may exhibit physical signs of worry such as headaches or stomach aches.
  • Are they making excuses not to go to school?
  • Adolescents especially may seem more irritable or isolated.
  • Questions about current events may be related to concerns or worry.


Stick To The Basics. For those of us who lived through 9/11 and the war that followed, these events shaped us in ways big or small. It can be difficult to know where to start. Here are a few suggestions.

  • On Sept. 11, 2001, America was attacked by a group of people who do not agree with our way of life and what makes our country special: freedom.
  • Freedom allows us to have our own beliefs and values that may be different from our neighbors.
  • Following the attack, many stepped up to join our military to protect this freedom.
  • Our country entered our longest war, Operation Enduring Freedom.
  • In that time, many fought bravely and, sadly, some did not return. Some men and women in uniform came home with injuries — some that you can see, others that you can’t.
  • We are proud of those who serve because they do so to keep us all safe.


Personalize it. Tell your children how it made you feel, and how you feel today. Adapt based on your experiences, home environment and the age and maturity of your children.

  • It made our family sad to see what happened on 9/11.
  • But we are proud of those who stood up to protect us.
  • Those who serve our country are brave in trying to uphold American beliefs.


Be Prepared for The Question: “Are We Safe?” This is a complex question, which is further complicated by troubling images on the television, overheard adult conversations, and more. Here’s what you can assure your children.

  • Our country and our military remain focused on protecting Americans and our way of life.
  • The caring adults in your life take your safety very seriously. You are important to them.
  • If you feel worried or concerned, you can talk to a parent, teacher or school counselor.


This is a complicated moment in world history that can affect the mental and emotional health of not only our military families, but all American families. It is important to remember that our children are watching and listening and can learn from hearing how we feel about our country, our patriotism and what makes America special. It is not about politics; it is about supporting our neighbors and standing together. Always offer comfort and reassurance, reminding your children that you are there to talk and listen.