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Helping children to cope with traumatic events

Rob Clarke

Managing Director of Learning Architects.

More information: or call +64 21 590 572

Helping Children To Cope With Traumatic Events

This post is aimed at helping children to cope with traumatic events, but providing resources and strategies to support them, their families and educators.

Last Friday, Christchurch suffered an horrific terrorist attack. A gunman entered two mosques in Christchurch and started shooting people with a semi-automatic weapon. This has been a very traumatic and sad weekend in Christchurch. Our sincerest condolences and love go out to the families who lost loved ones in the shootings on Friday, 15th March.

As a result, we have cancelled all PLD in Christchurch this week so schools can focus on the hauora (well-being) for students and staff. The range and scope of effects in schools with this sort of event is quite unpredictable as every school/family will have different experiences based on a variety of factors, including how close they are to those directly affected… For many it will bring up memories of the earthquakes, particularly kids aged around 11-12 as they will have the memory/cognitive capacity to recall those times with clarity.

It was just like the earthquakes

The sound of helicopters over the houses certainly reminds me of those times. I was in Queenstown when it happened and I ‘fell’ into the social media livestream, not realising what it really was until I’d viewed much of the video that was streamed live; this was such a shocking thing to view when it dawned on me this was real. It was truly like watching a nightmare and I just hope not many young people saw it. Thankfully, school-aged students probably didn’t have their phones going during class time. What a destructive example of digital usage.

One of the top challenges the world faces according to António Guterres, the current Secretary-General of the United Nations, is better digital governance. Indeed many talk about ethics becoming one of the most important professions as exponential technologies create change that we can’t seem to keep up with.

Let’s encourage the social media giants to become more ethical

Helen Clark, a former NZ Prime Minister, tweeted on the weekend about “why can’t/won’t the social media giants automatically remove racist and other vile content from their sites?” I agree, why can’t they spend some of their immense resources on ethical social media usage, rather than just making more money via advertising? This is also mirrored by The Verge here. We have the technology, yet the implementation of our ethics are clearly not as sophisticated. Where does freedom of speech stop? Should it stop when others can be harmed? Come on Google, Facebook, Twitter – you have a chance to ‘do no evil’!

It is NOT OKAY for hate in any shape or form to grow in New Zealand. We need to ensure we work harder to be inclusive, caring and kinder towards all. We are all part of the same human family.

I virtually attended the UNA NZ national council meeting on the weekend which took place in Wellington. This highlights the importance of the United Nations mission to promote peace and security and uphold human rights. Now, more than ever, it is of paramount importance to perpetuate peace, unity and compassion for others no matter their beliefs/culture/etc.

To this end, we have curated some resources for our colleagues in schools to use at this time and will continue to add to this list as new strategies and resources come to light. If you come across others, please let us know.

Finally, to our colleagues in schools: if we can support you in any way at this challenging time then please ask.

Resources for students, educators and families

Booklet: 'How Parents and Teachers Can Respond to the Shooting'

Attached is an extremely helpful booklet which was written by Dr Kathleen Liberty of the University of Canterbury on the subject of coping in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event.

How Parents and Teachers Can Respond to the Shooting – PDF

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Video about inclusion

This is a lovely song at the end of this video of Smallfoot about inclusion and bringing different people together.

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Discussion activity powerpoint

This excellent activity is taken from NZ Senior Social Science Teachers facebook group, thanks Meredith Raukura:


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Paper Doll Challenge

A great example of a couple of school kids taking action…

Paper Doll Challenge – two Bay of Plenty siblings are eager for other Kiwi kids to support them in demonstrating that Aotearoa New Zealand is a place of diversity and acceptance. They want schools and families to send in their paper doll chains to form a single long, colourful chain representing harmony between cultures.

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Create art

Get students creating art like this wonderful cartoon by Kiwi cartoonist Shaun Yeo.Learn more about him here…

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Show great examples of compassion

This article includes a wonderful video where the NZ Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, tells US President Donald Trump ‘the best help he could provide in the wake of the Christchurch attack would be sympathy and love for Muslim communities.’

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A Psychologists Age-by-Age Guide - The Parenting Place

This summary of an excellent article by Karen Young from the Parenting Place:

  1. The most important question whatever their age, there is likely to be one thought at the front of their minds – “What about me?”
  2. Let them know that what they’re feeling makes sense
  3. Name what you see or hear from them
  4. Help them to put it in context
  5. Ask directly what it is they’re worried about
  6. Be available
  7. Let them see your compassion, empathy, and resilience
  8. It’s okay not to have the answers they’re asking for
  9. Remind them of the goodness in the world

This article also includes age-dependent tips and advice for parents.

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Twinkl NZ teaching group resources

This facebook group has a wealth of great resources, including:

  • Different beliefs discussion resource
  • We are all different story

(these have been converted to Google Slides, you should join the facebook group to get the originals)

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Kindness is Free! Lyric Video

This wonderful song and lyric video was created by Music with Michal.

Plus, she has even created this document with the chords… makes me want to jump back into the classroom!

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Webquests relating to peace

The UNwebquests website is one of the projects I oversee in my role as Special Officer for Education for the United Nations Association NZ.

There are over 100 webquests students can take part in on this site on all manner of topics. Students can even share their learning on this website.

More at

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NZ Psychological Society Resources

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Advice from Nathan Wallis, Neuroscience Educator

Nathan Wallis has some very practical advice in this facebook post…

  • In general the teacher will model resilience by putting on a brave face that celebrates all the good guys and how quickly it was contained.
  • Validate the children’s emotions by reflecting them back to them and saying it’s ok to feel that way and very normal. Then make a positive phrase that speaks to the thousands of people who have responded with love, and assume that we will rise above this in your closing statement. If u are sure – they will be.
  • Have a normal routine because familiar patterns will help, but remain very flexible to accommodate socio-emotional needs – these are the needs that will be foremost for the children.
  • Follow your own instinct as a teacher – you know these kids well so don’t undervalue your own ability to know what they need – you probably do so go with that. Maybe give the kids a symbol they can display that shows simply love for all – lots of kids are using the colour Green or White to express this. This gives them a sense of agency and helps to move them from passive or victim mode (understandable!) and into proactive mode. This will help.
  • And look after yourself. If you’re not going to cope yourself, you really shouldn’t be there. So make the right call about that.

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Updates from the Christchurch City Council

The City Council has this webpage with updates for residents.

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