6 to 9 Year Olds
The younger children in this age group respond well to some of the 2 to 5 year old techniques: doll house play, puppet shows, tea parties, car/airplane scenes, telephone game, and reading books. With this age group try to determine if the child has understood the question by asking the child to repeat what you have said, rather than asking, "Do you understand?" Try not to follow every answer with another question. Instead, either comment, ask the child to elaborate, or simply acknowledge the child's response. Learning about a child's routine affords you an opportunity to refer to certain activities that may help a child recall particular events that you may need to learn more about.
The following are common techniques used to elicit information about the child's family situation, the child's feelings, and/or feelings about the family.
"If you had a magic wand (it is nice if you actually have a magic wand!) and could change anything you wanted, what would you change about a) your family, b) your Mom or Dad, c) where you live, and d) yourself?" Since these children need a sense of control over their lives, they enjoy getting to "change" the parents. Some will say, "I'd make them stop yelling at me" or "I'd make Dad be more fun" or "I'd make Mom not be so tired all the time."
"If you had three wishes about your family, what would they be?" Common responses are "That Mom and Dad live together", "that they stop fighting", or "that we all live in the same house."
Ask the child about having animals at home or what the child's favorite animals are then ask "What animal reminds you of your Mom/Dad? Why?" Or, ask the child to draw the animal that reminds them of Mom/Dad. "If you could change yourself into an animal, what animal would you be? Why?"
"Let's write a short story about your life..." This can be done either on butcher paper taped on the wall or on a large piece of paper. Either the child or you can do the writing. Prompt the child with "Let's start with where you were born. Do you know who was there when you were born? Joey was born in___ . He lived with___ at ___."
Road of Life
Ask the child to draw a road and mark important happenings in their life. At the beginning of the road, make a notation of the child's birth date and birthplace. Ask the child to make bumps, potholes, rocks, or other obstacles in the road to represent illnesses or difficult times that have happened; note these on the road as they are shared. At the end of the road, ask what the child sees ahead (for example, What will he be doing? Where will she live?, etc.).
Draw Your Family
Often this will give you the child's idealized version of the family. You might want to ask the child, "Tell me about your family" or "Tell me something about your Mom/Dad." Ask the child to draw his or her family with everyone doing something active. You might ask, "How is ___ feeling in this drawing?" If the child draws a picture with only one parent, ask the child, "Draw me a picture of the family at home."
Draw Your Mom/Dad
After the drawing is complete, tell the child, "Well, this gives me an idea of what your Mom and Dad look like. Now can you tell me some words that will give me an idea of what your Mom and Dad are like and I'll write the words next to their picture as you tell me." Some children are quick to use phrases such as grumpy, yells a lot, fun, and takes me places. Other children are reticent. If the child struggles with providing the adjectives, you may try to guess and ask: "Is Mom fun, sad a lot, quiet, or boring?" Sometimes you get nothing but positive comments about one parent and nothing but negative comments about the other. You may also get the same adjectives for each parent. Often this technique gives an idea of the child's view of each parent.
Draw Mom/Dad's Homes
Ask the child to list the members of the child's home and then to list next to each home what they like best and least about being there. You can also ask how the child feels about the other people living in the home. This can inform you about the child's relationships with siblings and significant others in the home.
Propose to tell a story with the child. Tell the child that you will tell a part of the story, and then stop so the child can add to the story. Go on taking turns adding to the story until one of you wants to end the story. You can begin with: "Once upon a time Annie lived with her Mom and Dad in a ___ (child adds on). Annie, Mom, and Dad liked to go together to ____ (child adds on). Then one day," etc. The story can give you more information about the child's perception of the child's life history, or of the child's capacity for fantasizing! Nonetheless, children have the opportunity to tell you about themselves.
How Do You Feel When ...
Prepare a list of applicable situations for the child, mixing the situations, such as, "How do you feel when you get good grades? How do you feel when your Mom/Dad sees you've gotten bad grades? How do you feel when you get to stay up as late as you want?" Kids tend to be more responsive to these questions when you have a piece of large paper with a horizontal line that is marked "Great" on one end, "Awful" at the other end, and "OK" in the middle. Ask the child to mark a perpendicular line on the horizontal one to indicate the child's response. Be sure to put the number of the question you have asked next to the child's perpendicular line. Having lines to mark, rather than responding verbally, sometimes makes it safer for children to express their feelings.
Favorite Things in Life
Take three sheets of paper and title them Mom, Dad, and Me. Ask the child to list each person's favorite things (for example, TV program, ice cream flavor, sport, activity, etc.) and have the child list each item on the appropriate sheet. Each response is an opportunity to ask the child to share more about themselves. After the three lists are done, you may have a sense of the areas in which the child identifies with a parent. Again, we must remember how sensitive these children are about comparing Mom and Dad with the above techniques. It helps to ask about an activity with only one parent, and then ask about another activity with another parent. When asking about Mom and Dad, alternate between asking about Mom first and then about Dad first. It is best if you select which activity you want to use with this child, and avoid using more than two activities that involve comparison.
Draw an Island
There are several different variations on the "Island Fantasy." One variation tells the child to fantasize about living on an island where you have everything you need, but where you are lonely because no one else lives there. A magic fairy gives the child the chance to have anyone the child wants on the island. The fantasy ends with everyone going back to the land where they live, and everyone living happily ever after. You may get a sense of who is most important to the child through this fantasy.
In another version of the island fantasy, ask the child to draw an island and to put on the island only what the child wants on the island. When finished, ask the child to put the persons they want on the island with them. Older kids may put only their friends, in which case, then ask, "If your parents need to be on the island, where would you put them?" In one example of this game, a child put one parent on the island and the other far out at sea. The child had a boat, but only she could take the parents from one place to the other. She had control of whether the parents could get near each other!
Lego's, Lincoln Logs, Connect, blocks, Tinkertoys, etc., can often provide an opportunity for the child to tell a story about what they have built.
Prepare sentences for the child to complete. Formulate sentences that are relative to the child's situation.
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