By Family Flavours
It’s never too early (or too late) to start the conversation about personal safety with your child, and expert-backed illustrated books are a perfect tool for this!
We catch up with Jordanian-Palestinian Muna Abudayyeh, author of three children’s books, including a body safety book in Arabic, Hatha Jessmi La Talmessni, for candid insights and tips.
What inspired you to write a children’s book about body safety?
Abudayyeh: Good quality books and children’s stories, in particular, are powerful tools that can often help parents and caregivers address the most sensitive and complex subjects with their children. Body safety, especially in our region, certainly falls under this category and is still considered a taboo topic.
As a mother of two girls who firmly believes in our children’s right to learn about their complete and total autonomy over their bodies, I struggled to find Arabic books that honestly and openly present the basics of body safety.
So my friend and co-author, a mama of two boys, Deema, Alami and I decided to join forces to create a go-to body safety book that covers all the fundamentals in a positive and child-friendly manner.
What research did you carry out, or what expert did you consult in the writing of the book?
Abudayyeh: When Deema and I set off to write a book about body safety in Arabic, we quickly learned that this project came with great responsibility. Following the script writing stage, we immediately pulled in a team of experts ranging from sexual education professionals, psychologists and body safety specialists from our region and across the globe.
A lot happened behind the scenes for this 30-page book to come to life! Every illustration was examined and every sentence was patiently investigated. Two and a half years later, it is now the book we are proud to see on bookshelves across the region.
Why do you choose to write in Arabic?
Abudayyeh: Arabic is my mother tongue. For me, it is not just a matter of literacy. Our language anchors our identity and gives form to our feelings and thoughts. It is that silk thread that weaves together all that is me, Muna, from the food, to the music, the poetry, history and the humour. We are a multicultural family, with me with my Palestinaina-Jordanian heritage and my husband, Romain’s French roots. And while we can all agree that knowing many languages is invaluable, especially for our children, nothing should ever replace one’s mother tongue.
At what age should children be introduced to body safety?
Abudayyeh: Bottom line, you’re right ON TIME! It is never too early nor too late to start talking with your child about body safety. I read Hatha Jessmi La Talmessni with my daughter Valentine who is two, in a way that she will enjoy and understand it. And I read the same book with my six-year-old Solenne.
What do you say to parents who may feel ill-equipped or unprepared for a conversation about body safety with their children?
Abudayyeh: I would say, first read the book on your own. Get comfortable with the story. If you are confident reading it, your child will sense it and eventually practice what you are reading. Go through the parent’s guide; we wrote this for you, as we were in your shoes once!
When a book sparks questions, how do you respond to your child as a parent?
Abudayyeh: A book should always spark discussion and questions, which only means that your child is engaged and listening! A story is an excellent pathway to allowing healthy communication with our children. Children are curious beings by nature. And they most certainly will ask interesting questions. That’s the magic of childhood! So here is my advice: Be your child’s go-to person.
Let them know and feel safe enough to come to you for anything. Because once that question is asked, and not addressed by the parent (perhaps even ignored), your child will seek other avenues or people to find an answer.
What is Body Safety?
Body Safety is an educational journey through which parents and caregivers are committed to protecting their children from any sexual assault, says Abudayyeh. “It is an ongoing and honest conversation with your child about their amazing bodies.”
Through age-appropriate terms, vocabulary, and tools, Abudayyeh says parents can help children know their private parts, agree on a safety plan and understand basic concepts like The Circle of Trust – those your child can turn to when they need help or are permitted to aid them when you are not around.
Abudayyeh acknowledges that this could be an uncomfortable conversation for many but asserts, “I guarantee you it is the most important one to have!”
Grab a copy!
You can find all of Muna Abudayyeh’s children’s books, including Dalila Wal Qamar, Hatha Jessmi La Talmessni, at Readers, Fully Booked, DNA, Peekaboo, The Good Book Shop, Nathalie’s and Yippee. You can also reach the author through her Instagram @Mona.Abudayyeh
“The responsibility is ours to create a safer environment for our children by acknowledging the importance of open communication about body safety,” Abudayyeh advises parents. Hatha Jessmi La Talmessni covers the five pillars of body safety that every child, parent, caregiver and educator should know. If she had a few minutes with a child to empower them with some ‘protection tools’, Abudayyeh said she would start by:
Creating positive awareness about their bodies; “Your body is strong and beautiful and, above all, is YOURS. You and only you are the boss of your body!”
Teaching them about private parts and what they are. Use the correct scientific terms; Just like an arm is an arm, a penis and vulva there too
Discussing and establishing your circle of trust together; remember if a child resists the idea of a particular person, that should be enough to eliminate them
Agreeing with them on a safety plan; if they ever feel that they are in danger
Above all, letting them know that they are unconditionally loved