Innovative approach to help anxious tamariki through Covid-19

Sitting in a classroom in Whatawhata, a group of enthusiastic students find Mauri Tau, a magical mōkai – pet – of Tāne Mahuta, god of forests, birds and people. Looking on with pride is the first-time author, an academic from Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec).

Dr Waikaremoana Waitoki and Andre Mclachlan read their book to students at Whatawhata school.

During the first Covid-19 lockdown Andre Mclachlan, Wintec Principal Academic Staff Member – Centre for Health and Social Practice, found storytelling helped settle his tamariki, especially when the story encompassed mindfulness.

So, Mclachlan got together with Waikato University’s Dr Waikaremoana Waitoki and clinical psychologist Lisa Cherrington to create Kei Whea a Mauri Tau?, A book for children guided by atua Māori. The book is for parents, teachers and therapists to read to tamariki aged six to eight years and aims to help tamariki learn about connecting with themselves, others and the environment and to learn how to respond to their emotions.

The book was launched with an interactive reading at Whatawhata school earlier this month and can now be found online. The resource was developed in response to the needs of tamariki affected by Covid-19, including anxiety, separation from whānau, friends, school and routine, change and whānau stress. As part of the research project the creators partnered with Te Whakaruruhau, Māori Women’s Refuge, who were seeking to support the tamariki that come through their whare (homes).

Waitoki said Kei Whea a Mauri Tau? was more than just a book, it was an interactive experience that filled a gap in children’s literature, as resources for families to use with their children who were struggling with anxiety during the first lockdown were few and far between. 

“What we saw online, on social media, was that parents were talking about not being able to touch or contact people outside of their individual bubbles. You couldn’t go and see Nan anymore, couldn’t go and see family members and friends and it was worrying for kids. So, we thought, let’s produce a story that had the impact of teaching our kids to manage their emotions, to understand what’s going on in their body, to understand what their thoughts are and that they can manage them,” she said.

The book also encompasses several traditional Māori stories with a bit of a spin. There’s a guide in the back of the book which names the stories and teaches the reader where to go to learn more, opening up even more learning.

“Māori Women’s Refuge, as you can imagine, have children coming through their services all the time. They are children who are under intense stress, and it was another reason for us to make this book. 

“It’s a resource for their safe homes. It’s for whānau, it’s for their workers to read to children and help them settle down. It’s not going to be used on the first night a child arrives, but once they have started to settle in it works well. Te Whakaruruhau have provided sponsorship to get the book printed, to get the story illustrations done and they have been amazing. We’ve had a workshop with them, and we are set to work with them soon to help their child advocates with delivery of the story in the homes,” Waitoki said.

Mclachlan said it was about recognising the impact being uplifted had on these kids and this book helped them tune in. 
Mclachlan started writing the story with the help of his six own tamariki during lockdown. He could see how Covid-19 was impacting each of them in different ways and found storytelling was one thing that helped all of them. 

“It’s on us as practitioners and creators to contribute things that help other people. This goes out, people learn from it, we learn from it and then we help more people.

“You can focus on the controlled breathing and mindfulness side to the book or just the stories themselves, it’s up to the reader and the listener,” he said.

The website is accessible to anyone, and the book is free as a downloadable pdf. There are audio files of Waitoki and Mclachlan telling the story so at the start of a class or for a parent you can play the audio file, even if you’re not confident in te reo. 

Hardcopies of the book will eventually go on sale and a portion of the funds from those will go to Māori Women’s Refuge.

The whole research project had several sponsors including Trust Waikato - Wintec Community Research Fund, The University of Waikato, Te Rau Ora, He Paiaka Totara, and the Waikato DHB.

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