CHILDREN LEARN VALUABLE LIFE LESSONS THROUGH STORIES
Karim and Nour are the fictional brother and sister who feature in My Story, a new My School segment series. Through the pair’s adventures and experiences, young viewers learn valuable life lessons taught by storyteller Nada Kastoun Saab.
Families in the Middle East deal with a variety of issues, many of them the same as those faced by Western families, but in a different context. Children who have experienced violence – whether at home, in wider society, or as a result of war – often become aggressive or introverted because they cannot express their feelings.
A child with a new sibling may deal with jealousy, but when their family environment does not allow them to express their emotions, the older child may become physically ill or start acting out. Children who are facing sexual harassment or abuse also often suffer debilitating emotional and physical consequences. These are some of the issues that Nada Kastoun Saab, a psychologist and family counsellor, believes can be healed using an indirect and entertaining approach.
TURNING REAL-LIFE EVENTS INTO STORIES
Over Nada’s years of counselling families, many parents have shared with her their worries and the daily struggles of raising their children. From these real-life events, Nada has written 26 stories, which she narrates on the new segment My Story.
“When I began writing the stories, I originally wanted to use animals as characters,” says Saab. “However, I believe that kids relate better to human characters who are experiencing the same things they are.” Karim and Nour appear in all of Nada’s stories. Along with their family, the two children experience various events, each of which teaches a lesson about emotional health and child safety.
LEARNING THROUGH STORIES AND SERENE SURROUNDINGS
The segment’s storytelling approach helps children receive these important messages. “Rather than telling kids ‘do this; don’t do that’, I tell stories of incidents and what the characters learned from the events. Through the story and the characters, kids learn how to react and handle situations,” shares Nada.
The peaceful setting of My Story also helps viewers to open up to its teachings. SAT-7 ACADEMY Channel Manager Juliana Sfeir explains:
“A unique aspect of this segment is that it is filmed outside in nature, in a garden with trees and flowers. Nada is wearing a white dress and a summer hat. It is very beautiful and peaceful, and it breaks the pattern of the indoor filming of My School, which is done in the studio.”
INDIRECTLY TEACHING PARENTS
The four-minute segments seem to be effective, not only with children but with parents as well. “Parents are watching My School every day,” says Sfeir. “They want to see what their children are watching, and they end up watching the program themselves.”
“These stories, in an indirect way, teach something to the children and say something to the parents,” adds Nada. “I was very careful, when writing the stories, not to lecture or sound judgmental toward the parents.”
One story features Nour and her mother at the market. As the mother is shopping, Nour asks for a bottle of water. Her mother tells her to go and grab one from the shelf, but Nour struggles to reach the bottle. A man approaches her, puts his hand on her shoulder, and says, “Hey beautiful, would you like me to help you?” before giving Nour the water. He then says, “Come with me and I will give you a toy.” Nour wonders if it would be impolite not to go with the man, who she feels is kind and sweet. Then she recalls what her mother told her once: “If you are not sure about something, then don’t do it.” So Nour tells the man that she will bring her mother with her to get the toy. Nour returns with her mother, only to find that the man has disappeared.
With so many incidents of child kidnapping being reported every year in the Middle East, stories such as this play an important role in teaching children to handle threatening situations.
Nada’s stories also touch on the subjects of children’s rights and having a voice. “The characters in the stories learn that when they are bothered by or uncomfortable with something, they should speak up,” says Saab. “If they keep it to themselves, nothing will change.”
“Even though the stories are for children, true change starts with parents. How can the child tell his parents about an incident if he fears he might be beaten, blamed, shamed, or belittled? Children need to feel safe in order to share.” – Nada Kastoun Saab