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Help for the whole whānau

24 November 2021
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When Becky*’s son Billy* started acting out at his Christchurch school—leaving the classroom, losing his temper and more—it came as a bolt out of the blue.

Becky and her ex-husband enjoy an amicable relationship while sharing care of their two boys, Billy (9) and Matthew* (11), and neither parent had observed changes at home.

Furthermore, Becky always considered herself emotionally intelligent and aware of “all that stuff”. Yet now she was hearing from her son’s teacher every day!

Although she can’t put her finger on one event that triggered Billy’s behaviour change, Becky noticed that his challenges began not long after the Mosque shootings. “Billy has experienced some big stuff in his life,” she says. “He’s an ‘earthquake baby’ plus at four years old he witnessed his grandmother experience an aneurysm.” 

“The school put me in touch with the Mana Ake service and pretty soon after that a Tuning Into Kids™ course started at Presbyterian Support. I expressed interest straight away,” she said.

Becky says the course facilitators’ training and practical skills created an environment where she felt safe to share her experiences in front of the other parents. Together everyone discussed how and when to apply emotion coaching techniques, why situations at home might have gone awry, and how to try things differently.

“We talked about the importance of timing,” she says. “You can’t emotion coach a child when they’re in ‘the red zone’. You have to wait till they’re in ‘the green zone’.”

Learning to wait for the right time was especially helpful for Becky. When either of her boys “flips his lid”—the phrase used on the course—she gives them time to calm down before talking things through. She makes sure she’s calm too!

While Becky enrolled in the course with Billy in mind, once it started she quickly began to see everyone in her family with new eyes, including herself.

“I began to understand why I reacted to situations the way I did,” she said. “I wanted everything to be idyllic, but I learnt that it’s ok if my boys feel other things. I don’t need to be disappointed, I just need to support them. Every emotion is ok.”

With a combination of greater support at school (through Mana Ake) and at home, Billy’s behaviour has gradually normalised. But Becky’s home has become an even more peaceful place than it was before. In particular, Becky’s relationship with her older son, Matthew, has improved enormously as a result of the principles and skills she learnt at Tuning Into Kids. “We used to lock horns, but I understand him more now,” she says. “I can appreciate his passion.”

“These days the most important thing for me is that my boys leave home with the ability to feel empathy, to feel comfortable talking about their feelings, and to be able to ask for help. It’s far more important to me than maths or rugby. Ultimately, I want them to be emotionally intelligent.”

*Names and photos have been changed to protect privacy.

Tuning Into Kids™

Tuning Into Kids™ is a six-session course that teaches parents skills in emotion coaching, which is to recognise, understand and respond to children’s emotions in an accepting and supportive way. This approach helps children to understand and manage their emotions.

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