A lack of resources and a longing for whānau connection were the impetus behind a new book, Kei whea a Mauri Tau? - Where is Mauri Tau?, created to help tamariki recognise, describe and manage emotions such as anxiety, worry, anger, hurt and feelings of missing loved ones.
Dr Waikaremoana Waitoki, a clinical psychologist and senior lecturer at the University of Waikato teamed up with clinical psychologists Andre McLachlan from Wintec and Lisa Cherrington to create a therapeutic story for teachers, health practitioners and whānau. Their book draws on Māori oral traditions and pūrākau (stories) woven together with modern practices of stress management and mindfulness. The book encourages tamariki to go on an adventure guided by atua Māori (ancestors/gods) to find Mauri Tau, a magical bird who will help them learn to be calm and settled.
“When we went into our first lockdown, there weren’t really any resources for whānau to work with their children who were struggling with anxiety,” Dr Waitoki says. “What we saw online was that parents were talking about not being able to touch or have contact with whānau - we had our individual bubbles but couldn’t go and see Nan or family members any more. It was really worrying for kids.”
“So we wanted to produce a story that was wrapped up in the exercises but had the impact of teaching our kids to manage their emotions, understand what was going on in their bodies, understand their thoughts – and understand that they can manage them.”
The pūrākau, or story, guides tamariki through a series of tasks or exercises, while chasing down Mauri Tau who stays just out of reach on each of the colourfully illustrated pages. Graphic designer Jamie Sims was crucial to providing images that could tell a story without words, while also offering plenty of talking points.
Pūrākau provide a way for Māori to find meaning in the events of everyday life and then identify culturally and spiritually acceptable pathways for wellbeing. Through progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) the exercises reduce muscle tension and allow a state of calm, or tau, to give children a sense of control over their bodies and their emotions.
Andre says his experience of reading to his tamariki over Zoom during the first lockdown highlighted how important storytelling could be for the whānau.
“During the covid lockdown the ones you expect to step up - the older ones - found it really difficult because they were aware of what was happening and what could happen. The middle child was more disconnected, so he ran things, and the little ones just thought it was awesome. But things hit different ages at different levels - the energy levels, how they were understanding it. I could use stories to adapt to what we were going through, how we were feeling about things.”
The launch of the book at Whatawhata School recognised the input Andre’s whānau had on the development of the book, with all of his tamariki either attending or supporting the school as a kapa haka tutor. His wife Sarah-Jayne is a kaiako at the kura and understands the challenges that tamariki faced throughout the COVID pandemic. Each family member contributed throughout the process - including developing a te reo Māori version. Andre worked with teachers Lamoni Tawha and Wiremu Ohlson and principal Mr Rob Gunn prior to the book launch so that the tamariki became confident in working through the exercises.
“They’ve all been involved in some way. Each of them have touched it, looked at it, commented on it, or supported it,” Moana says.
“We wanted to build on our traditional stories, give them a bit of a spin. When kids are feeling anxious, they know that the wind is there, the environment is there to help them. They can draw on those things and know that they’re normal.
The book was supported by a grant from Trust Waikato and an internal research grant from Wintec. Dr Waitoki and Dr McLachlan are also researching traditional and contemporary Māori knowledge of wellbeing and healing supported by a Marsden research grant. A te reo Māori version is also available that offers a rich addition to the vocabulary of Maori language learners. Dr Waitoki acknowledges that more research is needed to draw on the depth of mātauranga Māori that describes mindfulness-based practices that are unique to a Maori worldview.
“It’s important when working with tamariki Māori that therapeutic approaches acknowledge the way that emotions are experienced and our preferences for pathways to wellbeing. Emotions for Māori are often felt and expressed physically. Healing therefore does not happen in isolation; rather it occurs in connection with body, spirit, whānau, and the environment.”
Dr McLachlan commented that guided imagery helps tamariki to use their imagination, to engage them in the task of PMR, and to create an ideal therapeutic space wherever they are. Mindfulness helps tamariki to have more moment-by-moment awareness of their experiences and their responses to them. Along with that, controlled breathing can reduce physical arousal and anxiety.
“It also encompasses the basic things of mātaranga Māori as well,” Andre says. “Each of the little adventures is related to a broader pūrākau, known stories like Māui harnessing the sun. So there’s an opportunity for whānau and teachers to go further, learn more, research and find out more about their stories.”
Kei whea a Mauri Tau was supported by Te Whakaruruhau Māori Women’s Refuge and will be used by staff to help children settle after stressful or traumatic experiences.
Kei whea a Mauri Tau in English and Te Reo Māori is available as a free pdf download and audio file from He Paiaka Totara, or can be purchased through the New Zealand Psychological Society with proceeds going to Te Whakaruruhau Māori Women’s Refuge. A te reo Māori version is also available.