Sept. 11 in the mind of a child

Times Staff Writer

How have children made sense of the tragedy of Sept. 11? Pretty much the way adults have: by asking questions of family, God and the world at large. "Why?" tops the list.

Over a period of nine months, 500 children across the country were interviewed about their reactions to the events of that day, culminating in a moving HBO special, "Through a Child's Eyes: September 11, 2001," showing at 7:30 tonight.

Produced and directed by Amy Schatz, this singularly gentle half hour, put together with sweetly animated musical interludes, turns the spotlight on real kids, ages 2 to 11, who reveal with sensitivity and sometimes touchingly comic earnestness, very big thoughts and feelings.

Some are empowered by envisioning themselves as strong and heroic. One 4-year-old is certain that if he'd been in New York, he would have saved the city; a 3-year-old solemnly identifies himself as a firefighter.

A 5-year-old yearns to live in a world "where there's no bombs, no weapons and everyone's nice," and a 6-year-old hopes that her house wouldn't be a target because "it's not important."

Others puzzle out how anybody could be "so mean." "He [Bin Laden] thought it would help his people," surmises one; "maybe because he didn't have any friends," says another. "But that's just going to make more hate, more hate, more hate, until we don't have a world anymore," says one little girl.

Other children miss parents who are in the armed services fighting "for America and the president," ask why God didn't fix it all, or take a philosophical route: "Life is about goodness and sadness and badness."

This poignant reminder of the vulnerability and resilience of children underscores that while adults may not have all the answers they do have the power to ease a child's fears.

Created by the team responsible for HBO's critically acclaimed specials, " 'Twas the Night" and "Goodnight Moon," this program, part of HBO's "The Parent Handbook" series, was produced in consultation with the New York University Child Study Center, American Academy of Pediatrics and Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media.

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