Raising resilient tamariki

Why is resilience important? What does it look like to bring up resilient tamariki? And what can resilience offer our tamariki in terms of living confidently in a culturally diverse context? These are some of the questions we put to a panel of parents – Pio Terei, Stacey Morrison and Te Karere Scarborough – who each have rich contributions to make to the kōrero around growing up as Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand. This kōrero speaks of important truths for all parents as we attend to the important work of raising the next generation to be both confident in their own cultural identity and honouring of others.

Resilience and identity

The ability to resiliently handle life’s challenges is important for everyone, but the way we teach the next generation this life-skill may look different to how we ourselves were taught, especially if you were a student of the ‘harden up, you’ll be alright’ school of thought. It’s important that we, as parents, appreciate the importance of resilience for holistic well-being and character development, and in particular, to realise the link between resilience and identity.

Stacey Morrison describes this connection between where we’ve come from and where we’re going in relation to the way we teach our tamariki to “be strong in themselves, be strong in their skin – in their Māori skin, in their Pākehā skin – in who they are. From that place, there is strength. If you know that it took many eons of ancestors to become you, you can see how special you must be – that there must be special reason for who you are.” Yes, Stacey agrees there are tactical ways to build resilience emotionally and intelligently, but foremost we need to place importance on cultural identity.

“Often we define resilience as just the ability to cope with life, but I think our vision (especially for our Māori whānau and whānau of colour, who often face a lot more challenges) should be more than just coping with life. It should be relishing and flourishing within life” says Te Karere Scarborough.

While there are valuable tools that go alongside resilience, such as delayed gratification, managing failure and dealing with financial or emotional challenges, there is a deeper underlying value, suggests Te Karere. “For me, resilience looks like having deep convictions about what matters to you and your whānau and in the face of whatever life throws at you, holding fast to those convictions.”

Where we’ve come from

Passing on values and traditions to our kids is important, so how does the panel encourage parents who are looking to address this in their own whānau?

“The fact that you are thinking about it and looking for it is a win! If you’re analysing your own parenting; looking at what you’ve taken on board from your own childhood and actively choosing how your kids are parented, not just letting it happen – let’s count that as a win first of all!” comments Stacey.

Stacey refers to the personal choices each whānau must make in what they embrace. “For us, reclaiming our ancestral language has provided strength and enrichment for our lives,” says Stacey, reflecting on her own family’s commitment to learning and speaking te reo Māori. “That’s a journey – you can’t just buy that from Amazon! First of all we need to value it (tikanga and te reo Māori), then step towards including it more in our kāinga (homes).”

“The truth about us as humans – we don’t think ourselves into new ways of being, we’re formed through experiences. For our tamariki who go through experiences around the reclamation of culture, it’s a lot easier for them because those things are being formed early on,” says Te Karere, highlighting the advantage of starting early in the journey of embracing cultural identity.

Teaching kids to wholeheartedly embrace their cultural identity may be a learning curve for parents as well. “The big challenge is – and a lot of our tīpuna bought into this – the idea that you could be your Māori self at home, and culture could thrive there, but you had to be someone else in society. A lot of new immigrants to New Zealand face that same kind of dichotomy of two different worlds. My vision for my kids is for them to have an integrated life – they can genuinely be themselves at home and in society,” says Te Karere.

Knowing where – and from whom – you’ve come from is important for the formation of any cultural identity. Te Karere encourages Māori and Pākehā parents to “Find those stories from your past, in your whakapapa, that you can look back to and say these are the types of people we want to be.”

Where we’re going

As parents, it’s our job to authentically model to our kids who we are, the values we embrace and the traditions we value. Stacey remembers a tip from a Building Awesome Whānau course – the catch phrase ‘In our whānau, we do this…’ This simple phrasing moves us away from judgements and comparisons, while reinforcing the values of our own whānau. ‘Yes, the Jones family might do XYZ, but in our whānau we… ‘

A challenging but pertinent question for the panel: Are Māori children going to move forward with less hurt?

Te Karere recalls a recent conversation with his young son, where he told him: “For our tīpuna, much of our world has been on fire – there’s been a loss of language, a loss of economic base, these things  have affected us. People have had their buckets and tried to put that stuff out. We still have the same burden, but today – with aroha and technology and your own resilience – the buckets are getting bigger for you guys to do more stuff.” While the burden may be reducing, it is still there, suggests Te Karere, especially when considering the fact that Māori are yet to reach the level of flourishing that they deserve, as is tellingly reflected in so many socio-economic indicators in our country.

Speaking with hope for the future, Stacey believes the next generation is better equipped to call out the destructive stereotyping and discriminatory language and ‘humour’ that has been prevalent in New Zealand society. “Our kids have aroha – a culture of kindness is what’s expected.”

The power of connection

When our tamariki know who they are, their emotional tank is full, says Pio Terei. “They aren’t lonely because they recognise that they belong to the bigger picture – te ao Māori, te ao Irish, te ao whatever it is – and that gives them resilience.”

“Too many kids have felt invisible” states Pio, who suggests we can counter this by helping our kids see they are part of something bigger. There is a deep human desire in all of us to feel connected, and as Stacey suggests – “We gain resilience from our collective culture.”

While helping our kids connect with where they came from is vital for developing resilience, so is staying connected right here, right now. “Resilience is about being connected to our kids; talking to them, challenging them in a safe way, setting examples – we have a multi-layered responsibility so our kids feel safe and resilient,” says Pio.

Recognising the value of diversity

While some people have the advantage of growing up in culturally diverse contexts, others find it scary to engage with different cultures. Te Karere has recognised this fear among Pākehā especially, whereby people can be so afraid of getting something wrong and being culturally insensitive, that they  refrain from engaging at all. That fear is not insurmountable, however, though some effort will be required, suggests Te Karere. “We need to push past just going to the cultural event. We might go to the Chinese New Year or the Kapa Haka day and it’s almost like we’ve had a little bit of culture and we feel like we’ve had our exposure. My challenge is this – there are deep wells of love for you in all of these different whānau, and it will look different and it will take longer, but it is so worth it. If your child come homes with an African, Chinese or Māori friend, rather than thinking about all the reasons why this will be harder than usual, really push in and find out what it looks like to build a relationship with their whanau. Taking the opportunities to build deep relationship, not just go to an event, proves so valuable in the long term.”

Stacey has identified a nervousness in people because they don’t know something that they feel they should know. The gaps in understanding can be confronting for Pākehā but Stacey has encouragement, “Effort is everything. People can see your intent. Trying to experience being a New Zealander who is in touch with what this whenua is built on and lives on means a lot. The opportunity is there – no one is expecting you to be perfect.”

Te Karere issues another profound challenge in closing: “Every single human has dignity. I will challenge all people for having racist ideas and saying things out of ignorance. We can’t let generalisations build up (stereotyped) pictures. We all need to be able to talk about things, to justify our views – while demonstrating love and empathy across the board. It’s about being above some of our own cultural norms so that we can see with eyes of love in the same way we want to be seen.”

This interview was originally conducted as a live event on Facebook. You can still view the full interview on our Facebook page.


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About Author

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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