Response, recovery and wellbeing after the tragic event in Christchurch

Issue: Volume 98, Number 6

Posted: 8 April 2019
Reference #: 1H9su6

Ministry of Education psychologists discuss recovery and ongoing wellbeing in response to the 15 March event in Christchurch.

Whakarewarewa School students showed their love by forming a heart on the field and sending the image to Christchurch. Picture courtesy of Rotorua Daily Post

The tragic event in Christchurch took many schools and communities back to their foundational values base. This values base is the very place where response, recovery and ongoing wellbeing lies in times of change. That change occurred when beliefs about our environments, communities and places we live were challenged. We are having to reassure, and reassess our community core values to respond.

Faith-based values, such as salaam (peace) have become entwined with spiritual, social and cultural values, particularly tikanga Māori values. Some schools have focused on whanaungatanga (belonging), manawanui (tolerance), manaakitanga (care), and aroha (love). 

Calling upon collective values such as these has helped both adults and children frame their thinking and actions. It has helped us make considered choices and actions towards recovery. In many cases it was students who took the lead.

  • Kapiti College: “We stood and performed [our haka] in the symbolic formation of the three white feathers (raukura) of Parihaka. Te Raukura represents spiritual, physical, and communal harmony and unity. It is a symbol of faith, hope, and compassion for all.”
  • Whakarewarewa School students showed their love by forming a heart on the field and sending the image to Christchurch.
  • Schools celebrated diversity through gold coin mufti or dress days with proceeds going to charities in Christchurch.

Ongoing recovery

The many student-led actions can be a good sign that children and young people are coping effectively. No reaction and keeping to usual routines and activities can also indicate coping. Children and young people will have varied responses.

Children and young people (and adults) who cope effectively demonstrate emotional regulation, problem solving, positive reframing, getting on, helping others (mutual help and distraction), seeking support. Keeping connected, managing together and helping each other with emotions are important. 

It’s normal in the short term for children, young people and adults to be physically affected, to be emotional, have trouble sleeping, to feel aches and pains, to have difficulty concentrating, thinking or making decisions, to feel overwhelmed, very tired, agitated and tense. Natural responses can include talking too much – and withdrawing. We know most children, young people and adults recover well over time and with good, ongoing community connections. If you’re worried about reactions over time in a child or young person, or in yourself, then do seek help.

Keeping schools and early learning services open and functioning normally helps. School being open is a sign thatdanger has passed or lessened. This is reassuring. It provides routines and stability. It is a familiar place, a place of safety, of solidarity. School provides a base for extended relationships and support for students, parents, whānau and staff. School interweaves disaster preparedness with everyday events to engender competence and hope.

Teaching moments

Adults support recovery and ongoing wellbeing through shaping, coaching and modelling. Children and young people will look to adults in their communities to provide a safe, calm and predictable environment where they feel cared for and seen. Adults can model being calm, reframe risk in manageable ways, model values, provide them with coping strategies and support them to problem-solve.

Ideas include:

  • practising stress management (relaxation techniques)
  • accommodating the need to move
  • using deep reading for building empathy and perspective taking. Deep reading enables people to encounter and inhabit different lives, different perspectives and different worlds
  • using language of emotions and helping children and young people to express and understand theirs and others’ emotions
  • time in nature and being physically active together
  • circle time to support classroom relationship building
  • providing children with opportunities to express themselves and connect with each other via music, arts, drama, dance
  • teaching problem-solving
  • for older students, critically analysing information from media and social media sources
  • supporting conversations within the Health curriculum for anyone who has viewed the videos or manifesto from the attack.

Bringing it back to values

The return to our values base remains a profound learning and teaching moment.

  • Why these values?
  • How do they guide us?
  • What do they look like (behaviours)?
  • Make them visible around the classroom and the school.
  • Boost your recognition and acknowledgement of those behaviours.
  • Emphasise relational connections and awareness of each other’s needs.

Working from a common values base is how children, young people and communities can safely examine alternative and diverse world views. The responses to the event in Christchurch revealed values that cross faiths, cultures and communities. Collaboratively identifying, teaching and embedding behaviours that enact these values is our greatest contribution to supporting our children, young people and communities to recover, thrive and flourish.

Resources that focus on resilience and diversity

Curriculum in Action: Change loss and grief(external link)

School Journal Story Library: (external link)Home: Stories from New New Zealanders(external link)

My FRIENDS Youth Resilience Programme(external link)

Mental health education and hauora: Teaching interpersonal skills, resilience, and wellbeing(external link)

Common Ground(external link)

Sparklers(external link)

Guidance on conversations with children and adults who have seen the videos or manifesto

  • It’s important to help young people understand their behaviour. They can understand it in terms of wanting to seek information and know/comprehend what was going on in a heightened environment, or receiving information from others that they automatically clicked on. 
  • Talk about this as an action taken in a time of heightened concern and limited information regarding what was occurring.
  • Talk about this as something that they can learn from (growth mindset). 
  • Listen, and show empathy and compassion.
  • Encourage young people to seek help from someone they trust and who won’t judge them.
  • Young people are often exposed to inappropriate content through the internet and social media. Acknowledge that adults/platform providers have a responsibility to make the internet safer.
  • Encourage young people to seek help if they feel distress, fear, guilt or shame that feels unmanageable.
  • Explore with them their own values and things that are important to them, such as showing kindness, improving the world, being a good friend.

Thank you

Kia ora koutou

I would like to thank each of you for your courage, professionalism and compassion in meeting the needs of our children and young people over recent weeks following the sad events of 15 March.

We’re mindful that Christchurch schools, early learning services and teachers have borne the brunt of the impact, and are continuing to do so. Some are coping with the loss of students, or parents and family friends of students and teachers. 

We stand with you and continue to be available to assist with the support you need in the face of this event.

While the attacks on Christchurch mosques were carried out by an extremist, their roots are in racial and religious intolerance.

I know many of you will be looking for practical ways to help tackle intolerance and to celebrate diversity in our schools and our society. I encourage you to get behind the Give Nothing to Racism campaign, recently launched by the Teaching Council and Human Rights Commission.

The campaign calls us to take practical steps that ensure that we don’t give racism any positive reaction to feed off and grow. These are supported by resources for teachers and education leaders to assist the conversation in the classroom.

To learn more go to: Give Nothing to Racism – project information(external link)

Iona Holsted
Secretary for Education

Also visit the news section of The Education Hub(external link) for latest research into how deep reading can build empathy and acceptance.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:15 am, 8 April 2019

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