Support for tamariki and whānau

Support for tamariki and whānau

Helping tamariki feel safe takes time, patience and reassurance from the important adults in their lives. When tamariki are scared, they want to be with people who help them feel safe and they might worry when they are not together.

It’s important to note that most tamariki and rangatahi are adaptable and resilient in the face of uncertainty. Others will need additional support as they navigate a time of unprecedented change and community challenge.

Those who are learning English should feel comfortable to use their home language as this helps with the leaning of English, whilst also ensuring children feel comfortable, safe and confident.

Managing working and learning from home

If everyone in the whānau is learning or working from home – how will this work?

Depending on the impact of COVID on your whānau, and due to requirements for periods of self-isolation, your tamariki may be moving between school and home for short periods. This can be unsettling and confusing for them.

Helping your tamariki cope with these changes means providing accurate information, discussing facts without causing undue alarm, and re-establishing routines when you can.

Keep tamariki engaged in activities at home and, wherever possible, their usual routines. Some tamariki need additional quiet and space at home for their learning.

The wellbeing of your tamariki is connected to your wellbeing

What if my worries make my tamariki worry?

You are an important role model for your tamariki. Staying calm and enabling time and space to be together will help them adjust to this “new normal” and support them to transform adversity into resilience.

Tamariki look to adults for guidance on how to react to stressful events. If whānau seem overly worried, tamariki’s and rangatahi’s anxiety may rise. Your tamariki will follow your lead. If they are feeling worried or anxious, you can support simple calming activities such as breathing exercises. This works for adults too, so feel free to join in. Gently hold their thumb – have them breathe slowly in and out, count out loud, “1”,  move to their pointer finger – have them breathe slowly in and out, count “2”, move to their middle finger and repeat, count “3”, move across just one hand and count to “5”, or both hands to count to “10”. Can they do it for you?

Sparklers has a range of calming activities for tamariki.

If your tamariki feels overwhelmed, or that things are feeling out of control, remember that offering simple choices or options can help, i.e. shall we do this, or this? Or would they like to use this, or that?  

Keep them engaged in their routines at home as much as is possible. Spend some time together - would they like to do a puzzle or listen while you read a story? This will support their wellbeing, connection with others and their learning. If you need help with this, contact your school or your local Ministry of Education office.

For older tamariki, allow regular times for them to positively connect with their friends online.

Headspace has a range of ideas that help people keep calm and activities that help with sleep. Support your tamariki to share these activities with their friends.

Helping tamariki while they are learning at home

Your school is helping your tamariki continue their learning, in person at school or online through blended or ‘hybrid’ learning. Talk with them about their learning and what the kaiako has asked them to do. If they do not understand check in with their kaiako and with your tamariki.

Create a physical space

If everyone in the whānau is learning or working from home - how can I ensure the environment supports my tamariki to learn?

  • Set up your respective areas as a whānau. Discuss and decide on the various areas at home for learning, working, resting and bonding together. For instance, your tamariki could do their home-based learning at the dining table while you work in the living room.
  • Older tamariki may also need a quiet space to learn, where and when could this occur.
  • When are the times when everyone may learn together or independently?
  • Can the older ones listen to the younger ones read?

Create a digital space

I've got one laptop, and three tamariki learning at home. How do I manage?

There might not be a need to get more devices.

  • Find out from each kaiako the di­fferent lessons and tasks assigned to your tamariki.
  • Help them prioritise these lessons/tasks based on urgency and importance.
  • Together, work out a schedule to decide who uses the device at what time.
  • Your tamariki can use Wi-Fi-enabled mobile phones for online lessons that involve video conferencing which can free up the laptops and tablets for assignments and lessons that are easier to access on these larger devices.

Create a space for your work and their independence

When I work from home, my tamariki keeps asking me for help. I don’t want to hurt their feelings by shutting them out, but I have work commitments too. Help!

It is natural for your tamariki to approach you for help, but there are ways you can make this more manageable for yourself.

Set expectations with your tamariki, for instance:

  • Be responsible (e.g. follow the timetable, no TV/online games until assignments / tasks are completed).
  • Be respectful (e.g. when someone is engaged in a “live” lesson or teleconference, don’t interrupt).
  • Set boundaries (e.g. what does your tamariki need to seek permission on, when should your child approach you).
  • Talking is an extremely valuable way of learning.  Talk with your tamariki about the activities you are doing and explain why you do things in a particular way. Encourage their questions. If you don’t know the answer, find out together.

Encourage your tamaiti to share his/her learning with you daily. Ask them about their learning, what they found easy and what was a challenge. For the challenging tasks talk about what they needed to do and help them consider different ways to find information. They could ask someone in their whānau or a classmate. If they need help finding answers online direct them to a tamariki safe search engine (there are a number of them!). This avoids them being swamped by the number and inappropriateness of sites that a google search will find. Talk about the skills that they are developing, and how useful they will be in their life.

Learning happens in every language. If your home language is a language other than English, use that language when communicating with your tamariki. You can use your home language to talk about activities provided and the activity can be completed in English, or in your home language.

Create a place (online or hardcopy) for your tamariki to note down questions and encourage them to find out the answers from their classmates and kaiako. Make the relevant contact details of the kaiako easily available for your tamariki. Keeping connected with school/kaiako – what are they expecting from your tamaiti? How will you do that in your household?

At the end of the day, let your tamariki know that it is ok not to get the right answers all the time – what matters is that they have put in their best effort!

Make time to talk

How will I know how much to tell my tamariki about COVID-19?

You know your tamariki best. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. When sharing information, try to provide facts without promoting a high level of stress, remind tamariki that adults are working to address this concern, and give tamariki actions they can take to protect themselves. Making time for them will let them know they have someone who will listen to them.

Speak to tamariki about how many stories about COVID-19 and the vaccination programme are on the Internet and may be based on rumours and inaccurate information. Talk with them about ways they can access factual information.

Tamariki do not always talk about their concerns readily, so they need your patience. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or work. It is very typical for younger tamariki to ask a few questions, return to playing, then come back to ask more questions. Often, they will ask the same questions again and again as they try to make sense of things – keep your answers simple, truthful and age appropriate. Tamariki will be reassured by your consistent responses. Tell them you love them and give them plenty of affection. 

Keep routines going

What do I do when our routines change each week or each day?

Sometimes you may need to structure your days, one at a time. If your routine has been shaken up, like sometimes you’re working from home, sometimes tamariki are as well and sometimes they are at school, it’s good to structure your time as best as you can. Routines are reassuring and promote health and physical wellbeing.

Help support tamariki in their usual activities and routines as much as is possible. This will support their wellbeing, connection with others and their learning. Routines are reassuring and promote health and physical wellbeing.

Having a routine or schedule that works for the whole whānau is important so that everybody knows what to expect. Learning happens all the time and can be woven in to your whānau routine. Draw up a whānau timetable together.  Mark out the timeslots that each whānau member is busy and/or going “live” (for lessons or teleconferencing). This allows the whānau to know when they have to give privacy.

It’s also easy to get carried away when working from home. Use the time saved from travelling to create new experiences with your whānau!

It can be useful to start and end the day at the same time as usual but remember learning doesn’t need to happen between 9 and 3 and there may be things that you need your tamariki to help with around the house like cleaning or laundry and that’s ok, as long as it’s part of your new routine.

Make the most of the reality of spending more time together as a whānau - establish new goals together, think about learning something new together and/or helping others who may be in need.

Create moments

I will be spending much more time with my tamariki at home, what if we run out of things to talk about and do?

Use this opportunity to bond with your tamariki. Continue to have conversations with your tamariki. Use their ideas. Check-in with them on the latest trends and happenings, and what they are interested in. Try these activities together:

  • Start a new hobby.
  • Prepare a meal together for the whānau.
  • Making time to chat to your tamariki about how they want to learn.
  • Keeping a focus on wellbeing – if tamariki are stressed or unhappy they will not find learning easy.
  • Schedule time to exercise. YogaGlo or videos from Yoga with Adriene or the Scientific 7-minute Workout programme also are good options.
  • Get rangatahi to check out the variety of ways people have stayed active during times of self isolation - are there some safe, fun ways activities they might try as well to be active?

Remember to pay attention to their feelings and encourage them to share, and listen to their worries and concerns. Let them know it’s normal to feel worried and anxious in stressful and uncertain times. Guide them to be positive (e.g. encourage them to reflect on their successes, and the things they are thankful for).

Monitor television viewing and social media

Consider scheduling time to use social media and establish usage time parameters. There are apps that can help block you from certain sites at particular hours of the day or by tracking the amount of time your tamariki use social media.

With all the changes it can be helpful to limit your own television viewing or access to information on the Internet and through social media. Try to avoid watching or listening to information that might be upsetting when tamariki and rangatahi are present.

Advice for kaiako and whānau about social media – Netsafe

Revisit basic hygiene and healthy lifestyle practices for protection

Encourage tamariki to practice every day good hygiene — to prevent spread of illness:

  • Model handwashing frequently and reinforce this if you leave and/or return to the house.
  • Reinforce sneezing or coughing into the bend of their elbow, using tissues and throwing these away.
  • Practice giving fist or elbow bumps instead of handshakes. Fewer germs are spread this way.
  • Encourage tamariki to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly; this will help them develop a strong immune system to fight off illness.
  • Discuss new rules or practices at home.
  • Keep in contact with the school your tamariki attend and let them know if there are any changes within your whānau. You should be able to contact them by email.

Helplines and information

Helplines for tamariki and rangatahi

Whānau support

Helplines and resources for everyone

  • Need to talk 1737 or text 1737 for counselling or support.
  • Lifeline 0800 543354 or free text 4357 for counselling and support.
  • Anxiety line 0800 111757 or free text 4202.


There are a series of webinars recorded over the first COVID -19 lockdown but have ongoing resonance. All webinars have captions available in both English, and te reo Māori.

Supporting tamariki and rangatahi

During a period of disruption, our feelings of safety can be undermined.

Below are some suggestions for helping the tamariki and rangatahi in your lives cope with the COVID-19 response.

Supporting inclusion

Behaviour support specialists

If you usually receive disability support services at your early learning service or school, the Ministry of Health has engaged Explore to provide access to behaviour support services during the COVID-19 response. Explore’s Behaviour Support Specialists can:

  • provide immediate wellbeing and support
  • suggest ways to respond to any challenging behaviours
  • discuss risks and safety planning
  • provide other tools and resources.

You, your whānau or support worker can call 0800 000 421 from 9am to 5pm to access their services. You do not need a referral from your Needs Assessment and Service Coordination (NASC) agency to access these services, but you will be asked to identify your NASC agency.

Explore focuses on the wellbeing of whānau and caregivers, and has expertise and experience in delivering practical advice and support to whānau, tamariki, adults, support workers and organisations.

Behaviour Support - Explore Specialist Advice - HealthCare NZ

Bullying Free NZ

Ministry of Health Melon app

The Ministry of Health has a variety of support, tools and resources to help rangatahi manage anxiety due to the uncertainty and change caused by COVID-19.

The Melon app is an online tool that has resources to help you get through difficult times. It includes videos and NZSL.

Melon: Tools to help you through difficult times

It has information on: 

  • Facing fears
  • Brain breaks
  • Mini mind workouts
  • Anxiety toolbox
  • Mood booster
  • Understanding anger.

Te Reo Māori & Pacific