“Now I know that when I make a mistake it’s not the end of the world.”

That adult-like comment came from Jill*, aged eight, who had just completed the Family Works Otago ‘Growing Taller’ group programme; a programme supported with Tindall Foundation funding.

Prior to entering the programme Jill suffered from crippling anxiety. Her deep fear of making a mistake and being rejected caused her to withdraw from every-day childhood activities and damaged her self-esteem.

During weekly’ Growing Taller’ sessions, Jill and other children facing their own emotional hurdles learned that by watching, listening and paying attention to what was going on around them, they could better gauge how to respond more appropriately when things were not going their way.

Empowering children of all ages by showing them positive options to coping with challenges has been at the forefront of recent social work activity throughout Otago, especially in Central Otago.

Family Works’ Practice Manager (Rural) Rachel McAnally, based in Alexandra, said she and her team were seeing an increasing number of children being referred for help with anxiety and anger issues.

“Through supervised, structured activities each child has the opportunity to talk about feelings and reactions, and how other options could help them maintain control of their emotions and responses.

“There’s an element of fun built into each session to help them remember little prompts to recall when they feel anxious or sad – prompts that stop a situation escalating into anger,” she added.

Children currently supported by Family Works in Central Otago include those who moved here following the Christchurch earthquakes five years ago. Many of these children continue to experience anxiety issues related to that catastrophic event. They attend a Family Works programme appropriately named ‘Stormbirds’.

“For some of these children that means one of their parents has remained in Christchurch for work commitments. They’re facing separation stress as well as on-going emotional problems associated with the natural disaster.”

In Wanaka, individual parents working with the Family Works social worker are finding strength together. Through word of mouth this group is attracting other parents, all assisting each other emotionally and practically with issues around raising children.

“They do this of their own accord and it’s just brilliant to see. Parenting can be quite lonely for some people so to become more confident in their role is very empowering,” Rachel said.