“MY STORY” LIGHTS UP CHILDREN’S DAYS DURING PANDEMIC
Middle Eastern children and parents are responding with great enthusiasm to My Story, a SAT-7 ACADEMY storytelling segment shared on SAT-7 KIDS and social media. The stories not only give children joy and normality during COVID-19 – paired with supportive resources for parents, their subtle life lessons help transform families.
“Parents tell me that their kids cannot wait for the next story,” says Presenter Nada Kastoun Saab. “Others say, ‘Please don’t stop sharing the stories – we want a new one every day!’ They say they can see the impact of the messages on their kids, and parents are touched by the messages, too.”
The format of My Story is simple: in a variety of peaceful outdoor settings, Saab reads to viewers from a colourful storybook about a fictional brother and sister. This offers children a much-needed escape from pandemic-related stress, explains SAT-7 Development Manager Nicoletta Michael. “Storytelling allows children to encounter the familiar and, for a few precious moments, to become wrapped up in a narrative,” she says. But as children follow the ups and downs of Karim and Nour, they also gain many longer-term cognitive and emotional benefits, absorbing messages that help shape their characters and equip them to handle real-life challenges.
Saab, a psychologist and family counsellor and the writer of these stories, shares that one story has received particularly strong positive feedback. In the story, Nour is at the market when, separated from her mother, she is approached by a stranger who bribes her with a toy to go with him. Nour remembers her mother’s advice: “If you are not sure about something, don’t do it,” and she refuses, saving herself from danger. In the Middle East and North Africa, where many incidents of kidnapping are reported each year, this message is potentially lifesaving. Other stories help children improve their social skills and advocate for themselves.
The feedback from parents, who often watch social media content with their children, shows that My Story is helping whole families. “Some parents tell me that their children do not stop asking questions after hearing the story, and that it has opened a new channel of communication between them,” says Saab. “Parents also benefit indirectly from the messages, which may help them reflect on their family relationships.” One story, for example, sees the siblings deal with exam anxiety, showing how different parenting styles can either relieve this struggle, or worsen it. The SAT-7 ACADEMY team also plan to produce new episodes of My Story, specific to adjusting to life post Covid-19.
This support for children and parents is urgently needed in the Middle East and North Africa. In many parts of the region, the stress of the pandemic within families is compounded by pre-existing economic struggles and political upheaval. “I see it and hear it from my patients and others,” says Saab. “They are struggling. They want to parent their kids in the best way they can, but it is difficult to manage their own needs and their children’s needs. With the stress of a difficult financial situation, and perhaps the parent’s own emotional background, it is not easy.” In the worst cases, these stresses can contribute to abuse; like other regions, the Middle East has seen a surge in domestic violence since the advent of the pandemic.
In response to this need, Saab has also written the script for a series of 10 clips, broadcast on SAT-7 ARABIC and on social media. These messages discuss topics including “Transmit security instead of fear”, “Allow your children to express their anxiety”, and “Comfort your kids instead of rebuking them”. Saab also appeared on the new program Expert Advice with her husband, Roy Saab, discussing how families can best relate to each other during lockdowns.