Facing up to challenges with an app-solutely great resource

An animated app designed by Pacific people for Pacific people has been launched with the promise to help parents for the “more challenging moments” they have with their young children. 

Play Kindly 2.0 launched at the end of November, by the ‘Play Kindly Team,’ Dr Esther Cowley Malcolm, Oscar Kightley and Ali Cowley, together with the partnering University of Auckland research team led by Emeritus Cure Kids Duke Family Chair in Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Professor Sally Merry and Senior Lecturer Dr Gerhard Sundborn.  

Within the team was Ali Cowley who did the animation for the incredibly successful Bro Town series which ran for five seasons between 2004 and 2009, picking up a swag of awards along the way. 

One of the main protagonists of the project was Esther Cowley-Malcolm (pictured below left),who as well as getting Ali on board also persuaded actor, writer and comedian, Oscar Kightley to lend his talent to the script writing for the project. 

Left to right – Esther Cowley-Malcolm, Dr Marthinuus Bekker, Professor Sally Merry Esther said the three of them put their heads together and produced the app using the research from her PhD study which was on managing children’s behaviour around aggressiveness. 

Once the trio had finished their work it was passed on to child psychiatry academic Professor Sally Merry (pictured on right) of Auckland University for evaluation. 

Professor Merry was positive about the idea and suggested a random control trial (RCT), which Dr Gerhard Sundborn described as “the Mercedes Benz of research.” 

The results were everything the trio could have wished for. 

Among the comments made by parents involved in the trial were; 

“It was stuff I already knew but wasn’t using. It was because of the app that I put it into practice.” 

“Doing the scenario helped me understand, play with your child the way they want to play.” 

“I think I’m more aware about how my responses can have an effect on him.” 

(Image supplied,  left to right - Esther Cowley Malcolm, Dr Marthinus Bekker, Professor Sally Merry. Dr Bekker contributed to project research) 

“Gave us a few more tools.” 

“It found kids actually behaved better as a result of watching the app and ... the parents felt more competent after using the app,” Esther said. 

“The app is targeting Pacific parents, 60% of Pacific children are New Zealand born, so we wanted to target those younger parents of our Pacific children, (although) the research found it was relevant to all children.” 

At the launch of the app Dr Gerhard Sundborn , who led the trial alongside Dr Merry, said the trial focused on parents, with children aged 2 to 6, who were experiencing some form of behavioural problems with their children. 

He said getting CEO Jacinta Fa’alili-Fidow and the team at Moana Connect involved in the recruitment of parents was crucial, as it meant around 60% of the participants in the trial were Pasifika or Maori. 

“There was a significant positive increase in parents’ assessment of their child’s behaviour and an obvious increasing trend in parenting confidence,” Dr Sundborn said. 

“Given these results we are extremely pleased to share that our RCT (for) Play Kindly was a huge success.”



Pasefika Proud is a social change movement – ‘by Pacific for Pacific’ – to boost wellbeing for Pacific families and transform attitudes, behaviours and norms that enable violence. Our name and strapline embody our strengths-based, community-led approach: 

Pasefika Proud: Our Families, Our People, Our Responsibility 

Pacific children will make up almost one fifth of all New Zealand children by 2038. The Pacific population will continue to have a much younger age structure than the total New Zealand population due to higher Pacific birth rates.  Sadly, Pacific children are two and half times more likely to be physically punished than non-Pacific children. 

Pasefika Proud Pathways for Change identifies the need to build on current successes and strengths.  These include, but are not limited to, more education and awareness: 

  • Use of social networking media for disseminating information and key messages relating 

to family violence prevention, especially those affecting youth 

  • Earlier intervention with children and adults to educate families on family violence and 

prevent escalation 

  • More family-centred work – to create bridges and improve cultural connections and understanding between generations 

Read more – Pasefika Proud Pathways for Change