Tips for early learning services and kōhanga reo after the cyclone

Ensuring tamariki wellbeing in the wake of cyclone Gabrielle: Cyclone Gabrielle has hit parts of New Zealand very hard, displacing more than 10,000 people and causing widespread damage.

Times like this, where there is constant change and uncertainty, are times when the relationship between the early learning service and whānau is most important.   Your calmness and presence will be important for your tamariki and whānau.

Preparing for tamariki return

Know that tamariki may not quite understand the changes  happening around them as the result of the winds and the floods but they are taking everything in and trying to make sense of what they are experiencing.

Prior to the first day of returning, some tamariki may be more unsettled than usual. Tamariki will look to adults for comfort and reassurance so being calm, confident, and enabling time and space to be together will help everyone’s return to the "new normal".

Although you won’t be able to prevent tamariki feeling upset or frightened at different times, for example when the electricity goes out, or an alarm goes off, or something else unexpected happens, it can be comforting to keep in mind that many of the things you say and do everyday with tamariki are the same things tamariki will need from you now.

The words you say, the smiles you give and the activities you do help tamariki feel connected to you and others, which in turn frees tamariki to feel and be more reassured.

Some suggestions

  • Welcome and prepare whānau by communicating with them in advance about what to expect: what might be different and what will be the same eg. arrival times, alternative learning arrangements, and any changes to routines. Reassure them that your centre or kōhanga reo is a safe place for their tamariki to return to.
  • Remember that, especially for your Māori and Pacific whānau, kanohi ki te kanohi is the first rule of connection. 
  • Encourage conversations about the changes, why these are in place and the positive aspects of being back together, what you are looking forward to, and what they are looking forward to for their tamariki and for themselves. Limit assurances you give to whānau such as “Don’t worry!” or “Everything will be fine!”
  • Most tamariki will be excited about being back at their centre or kōhanga reo, re-engaging with their kaiako, playing and learning with and alongside their friends. 
  • Be aware of those tamariki who may be anxious and/or nervous. The four main fears are likely to be: leaving their whānau; adapting to changes in routine; fears about the wind or the rain; fears about friendships, e.g., will my friends be there, who will I play with? 
  • Check in with whānau who haven’t returned.. Kanohi ki te kanohi if possible. Let them know that you are looking forward to seeing them again. Enquire about when they might restart and if there is anything you can help with, or anything stopping their return. Help problem solve together as needed. 
  • Be mindful of additional supports and considerations that might be needed for tamariki and whānau with English as second language.

Talking about the cyclone, a sensitive approach

Big life events are tough on us all. Talking about life changing events can be challenging for adults, especially when thinking and talking about them can bring uncomfortable feelings and memories. Some tamariki will need to hear and talk about what happened. How you respond will help them make sense of it and to feel connected to everyone. Do your best to talk about what is going on using clear simple honest language.

Sharing some stories can be helpful. Focus on the positive aspects such as what everyone did to prepare, how people helped each other get through, if there are changes what is helping.

Here's some ideas:

The wind was blowing and making a loud noise. We all gathered together with our whānau and made it though until the wind slowed down. We’ll do the same if the wind blows again. The fire brigade /police came to our house during the rain and asked us to shift out so we could all be safe, we went to our aunties house for the night. The rains over now and we are all working together to help clean things up.

Ensuring your own wellbeing

When you take care of yourself you are better able to focus on what is happening in the moment and this can help you throughout the day. Checkout the mental foundations getting through together wellbeing tips.


  • Give yourself permission to take a break; have a cuppa and stop sometimes.
  • Sharing stories is OK but try to focus on what helped. Be mindful of the news and social media, it can sometimes feel overwhelming.
  • Focus on what's manageable right now – take things one day at a time.
  • At the end of each day think of something you enjoyed or accomplished and give yourself a pat on the back.

And if you feel you want to reach out for some support, there is help available. Call or text 1737 to speak with a trained counsellor anytime – it’s free and completely confidential.

When families need additional assistance

You can provide extra support by:

  • Knowing about resources in your area and providing information about these
  • Collecting printed resources and make them available for families who may not be comfortable asking for help. You might find some helpful resources here: Kia matua rautia – Tākai(external link)

Reactions to change and supporting tamariki – Te Mahau(external link) 

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