Supporting tamariki through big emotions

For our tamariki (children), experiencing emotion, processing how it makes them feel and figuring out how to manage those feelings is a big learning curve.

That’s why Mana Ake – Stronger for Tomorrow has been providing support not just for children, but for the whānau (family) who support them, and it’s proved a big hit.

“The session was fantastic – it was so well run and provided me with useful information and practical tips I can use to support my son,” said Rebecca Muir, who attended a session in September for insight around managing big emotions with her six-year-old son.

“This includes child-appropriate time-outs when he is processing emotions, for example kicking a ball in the garden rather than time-out in his room. He has a lot of energy, and this helps him burn it off and we can have a chat about what he’s feeling and thinking.

“I also loved the concept of implementing a worry jar. The idea of the jar is to write down your worries on a piece of paper and place them in the jar, then as a family either once or twice a week you can read the worries and talk about them, and how you might overcome them.”

Jonathan Crosby, Mana Ake kaiarahi (team leader) for Northwest Christchurch and Hornby, said: “Managing emotions is a hot topic so this session covered lots of things such as the science of what happens in the brain when tamariki are working through big emotions, emotional coaching to increase relationship and emotional intelligence and practical strategies to use at home.”

The session, which more than 100 parents attended, also provided an opportunity for parents to connect with peers, work through activities and share tips, tricks, and resources.

Becky Voisey, Mana Ake kaiarahi (team leader) for New Brighton, Shirley and Pito Mata cluster (St Albans/ Merivale), said there is a good response to the sessions, with parents and caregivers interested in learning more.

“We provide the fundamentals, and it gives parents that ‘aha’ moment. This could include supporting children to move through anger or anxiety by breaking things down into instances rather than viewing the bigger picture or creating a diary of interactions to assess how both children and parents are responding.

“We try to focus on what parents can sustainably do at home without having to change the world.”

Feedback from parents who attended the sessions included appreciation of being able to “start dialogue amongst the attendees to reflect immediately on what we were learning” and being “really easy to listen to, with presenters who know their stuff.”

The sessions have grown from Mana Ake kaimahi (workers) forming strong relations with schools and understanding the key issues seen in referrals, classroom, or group sessions. Parent sessions are planned in response to need and scheduled at times people can fit into everyday life, such as evenings or weekends.

In the last year, the most common issues raised with the Mana Ake team in Canterbury included emotional regulation, anxiety, self-esteem, and social skills.

“In the last couple of years, there’s also been a focus on coping with change and dealing with grief. This includes helping tamariki and whānau work through changes impacted by the rising cost of living and the COVID-19 pandemic, including parents working more, changes at home such as parents separating, or missing parental figures,” Becky says.

“Whānau have a crucial role to play in understanding and modelling behaviour for our tamariki. Part of managing emotions and our response to them is understanding big emotions are normal.”

The team is currently working on a new programme of events for 2023, to sit alongside other in-depth programmes for parents including the popular Tuning into Kids course.

Find out more about Mana Ake, an initiative that provides mental health and wellbeing support for children aged five to 12 years old, here.

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