Monday, May 2, 2011

Mommy, Who's Osama Bin Laden?

I can trace my expertise talking to children about traumatic events directly to the night when my 3 year-old daughter asked, as I was tucking her into bed, "Why is everyone singing the 'Bless America' song?" It was September 14, 2001. We had been at a previously scheduled party, and at 7 o'clock we spilled out in front of the house, lit candles, and sang.

This was the first of many questions my daughter would have about 9-11, then and many times in the years that followed. We tried our best to answer them in an age-appropriate way. We wanted to give her answers that were honest and respected the question, but not overwhelm her with frightening information. I like to think we did a decent job.

This morning, when my husband told our daughter that Osama bin Laden had been killed, she reacted with disbelief. "No way. Osama bin Laden, gone?" To her, the bogey-man had been vanquished. Then her brother piped up. "Who's Osama bin Laden?" My husband responded, "It's hard to explain."

My son will be 6 this week. As much as bin Laden was the bogey-man of my daughter's early childhood, he was completely irrelevant to my son. That by itself is amazing.

In our house, "It's hard to explain" really means, "Go ask Mommy, she's good at this sort of thing." So it fell to me. I wanted to give an honest answer to an honest question. But I knew the answer would be potentially scary, and so I wanted to make sure the answer removed any danger as much as possible from my son's experience.

Here's what I said:
    A long time ago, when your sister was little -- she was 3 -- some very mean people attacked our country. The man in charge of the mean people was named Osama bin Laden. We wanted to catch him and arrest him for what his people had done, but we couldn't find him. We looked for him for almost 10 years. Then, yesterday, our soldiers found him in the country of Pakistan. They tried to arrest him, but he didn't want to go. He shot a gun at the soldiers, and they shot guns back, and he died.
For today, this answer satisfied my son. I know from his sister's experience that it will not satisfy him for long. Inevitably, he will eventually ask why the mean people attacked us, and what they did. We will tell him that they were angry at our country because they didn't like that our government had soldiers in a part of the world they believed was holy, and they stole planes and crashed them into buildings. In his sister's case, it took her many, many years to realize that there were people on the planes that were stolen. By then, she was old enough to not translate that into an abject fear of flying. Hopefully my son will be, too.

I'm sure my son is not the only little kid asking this question today. I'm sure my husband is not the only parent at something of a loss for how to explain the situation. If my explanation can help you talk to your own kids, please feel free to borrow. I've also heard very good things about the books The Day America Cried and The Little Chapel That Stood for discussing 9-11 with little ones.

We owe our children honest answers to honest questions. If we don't give them that now, who will they be able to turn to when the next bogey-man comes along?

* The artwork on this post was created by a 5th grader at Chagrin Falls Intermediate School in Chagrin, OH for the 1st anniversary of 9-11, and comes from the FEMA website.


Meet the Quarterback

My Photo
Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
View my complete profile

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Quarterback for Kindle