THE BLOG
09/12/2011 05:40 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2011

Remembering 9/11 With Our Children

Hmm... I just read this op-ed on CNN by Mike Milhaven titled "How Do I Tell My Kids About 9/11?"

Quite frankly, I was shocked that his kids are 9 years old, and neither he nor his wife have talked to them about that day!

My daughter Tara is 9 years old. I was 5 months pregnant on 9/11. My dad, my mom and my brother were on planes when all the news hit. I will never forget my father, hysterical on the phone, while my aunt and I tried to track down my brother. Our family was spared. So many were not. That experience shaped so many of us and our sense of security. It shaped the world my 9-year-old has grown up in.

When Tara was about 3, she asked me "Mommy, what's a bomb?" It was just after bombings took place in Europe. My husband and I were watching the news, not realizing that she was paying attention. I clearly remember holding her, and having a conversation with my 3-year-old about how sometimes when people are hurting, they hurt other people. Was she too young to understand? I don't think so. The conversation actually motivated me to write my book, 100 Questions From My Child.

I strongly believe being open and honest with our children early on is the key to making them compassionate, understanding and globally aware citizens of tomorrow.

As parents, yes, some questions are way too difficult to answer. There is no way to explain to my kids why my 20-year-old cousin got diagnosed with a brain tumor and became blind and deaf because of the treatment. Why do such bad things happen to good people? I don't know. But its okay for my children to know that I don't know. But admitting that to them, struggling with the question with them, listening to them struggle with it -- that's part of our journey together. It's how we learn and grow, and figure out ways we can help the world.

Most children in the world do not have the luxury of being protected from violence, poverty, war, terrorism.

Our family travels to India every year to visit grandparents and relatives -- I cannot hide the poverty from them. It's a reality. You cannot cover their eyes when you drive by a child whose limbs have been cut off and is begging on the street. "Mommy, what happened to her?" "Mommy, why are we in the nice car and why is she in the street begging?"

Can we just ignore these realities? Of course, not. Rather, as a parent, we can tell them that it is not ok, it's not fair, it's an injustice. And begin a conversation of how we can help.

We need to protect our children, of course. While the terrorist attacks took place in Mumbai, we were celebrating Thanksgiving with our family and watched in horror the live television images. I did not let my kids watch. But they knew something was happening, and it was more important to talk to them about it rather than pretend everything was normal. Were they scared? Of course. But together we explored why, and we could feel secure about being together and grateful for the peace in our life, and our community.

We need to begin these conversations early on and discover answers together. Sept. 11 has become a date of reflection, remembrance, sadness. In my kids' school, they recognize the day and take a moment of silence to honor those that were lost. It's so important that when our kids hear about that day, they hear it first from people they love and feel secure with.

We have an opportunity to raise children who are compassionate, caring, and inspired to improve their planet. Don't be scared to explore hard questions with your children. Let them feel secure in a confusing world, by knowing that they can rely on you to be truthful with them. That they can ask you questions, and explore answers -- even the hardest ones -- with you.

Rather than hide the truth from them, how can we use the tragedy of 9/11 to find, with and through our kids, connection, community and a way to be of service in our ailing world?

Mallika Chopra is the author of "100 Promises to My Baby" and "100 Questions From My Child." She is the founder of www.intent.com.