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'It just makes me wanna scream': Kansas City parents navigate speaking to children about tragedy

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Posted at 6:11 PM, Feb 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-15 19:58:42-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo — According to Children’s Mercy Hospital, 11 children were injured at the Chiefs Kingdom Championship Parade. This has left many parents across Kansas City when and how to talk to their kids about the tragedy.

“It feels a little surreal to say, 'Yeah, go to the parade and take your kids and prepare and do all these things, not knowing that this was about to happen,'” parent Kristin Ruthstrom said.

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KSHB 41 sat down with Ruthstrom on Tuesday to talk about how to attend the parade safely with young children. Having an exit plan, air tagging children and taking a picture of them on that day for photo-evidence… None of that could have prepared parents for Wednesday’'s tragedy.

“It just… makes me wanna scream,” Ruthstrom said.

Parents like Ruthstrom woke up in the morning wondering how to help their children process the horrific sights and sounds. She and her husband went over with their three boys what they would do in that situation and updated them with honest information.

“As we were watching, they were most concerned of, 'Did anyone die? Did anyone die? And were there kids?' So we were truthful with them as the information came,” Ruthstrom said.

LINK | Complete KSHB 41 coverage of Union Station shooting

Dawn Clendenen-Moon with the Child Protection Center says honesty is best practice.

“We want to be calm, but that doesn’t mean we have to be robotic and deny that we are experiencing any emotions. It’s okay for kids to know that that really scared mom, too,” Clendenen-Moon said. “Whether it’s parents or teachers, if we don’t talk about these things, sometimes we inadvertently send a message that it’s not OK to talk it.”

She says parents should start conversations as soon as possible in an age appropriate way, and look out for common trauma responses like difficulty sleeping, loss in appetite or increased separation anxiety in younger children. It is also normal for trauma responses to manifest days or weeks down the road.

She says it is time for parents to reach out to a professional if they see significant changes in mood and behavior such as nightmares or fear that was not there before.

“Parents have to give their kids language. I think they often have to be the ones to start those questions because our kids aren’t going to always come to us,” Clendenen-Moon said. “Often times, they know more than we think they do. So I encourage parents to start the conversation. You could even ask a general question — what have you heard about what happened? You wanna know what they know because sometimes what they know isn’t accurate.”

This is why Sarah McGinnity prioritizes these conversations at home.

“We talk about being kind to each other and that sometimes bad guys get guns and for whatever reason, whether they are sick in their brain — we’ll talk about that mental health — or whether it’s they are angry or they don’t feel loved,” McGinnity said. “I would love to shield it from them, but they’re old enough that they are gonna hear stuff and id rather be the one to help them process that.”

McGinnity attended Wednesday’s parade with her two kids, a friend, and their children. They left the premises before the shooting and watched breaking news from home.

“My eight year old turned on the TV herself and said, ‘Oh, 11 children are in the hospital and nine were shot.’ And she said what does a gunshot wound look like, mom? And just said it’s bad, and it’s scary but it sounds like all the kids are gonna be okay, and the doctors know what to do, and Children’s Mercy is the best place for those kids and they will take care of them,” McGinnity said.

McGinnity and Ruthstrom say they are angry. In the days to come, they are finding avenues to reclaim the happy memories they made at the parade.

For Ruthstrom, that means donating to causes important to gun reform and calling her local representatives.

“A local mother lost her life, I don’t want it to be my own, I don’t want it to be my own children’s, I didn’t want it to be hers. This is not okay and we have to change,” said Ruthstrom.