Interviewing Children


A number of issues arise when evaluators interview children to determine the parenting arrangement that best meets the children's needs. This section focuses on the uniqueness of interviewing children for these evaluations, emphasizing the important developmental considerations in planning the child interview, and delineating some age-appropriate interviewing techniques.

by Rosemary Vasquez, L.C.S.W.

When working with children, most clinicians use a play setting because it is recognized that play allows children to more clearly express what they know and feel. Most children are not able to use language to communicate their feelings as effectively as adults.

Interviewing Children Overview

This section presents methods to help you prepare for your first interview with the child. It also gives some important reminders about how you interpret what you have heard and seen during the interview.

Determining Purpose of Interview

The first step in interviewing children is getting clarity about your purpose. It is recommended that you make a list of any possible biases that you may have regarding the issues involved in the child's life. By being aware of what you "know and feel" about the situation prior to starting interviews, you can make an effort to keep the biases from tainting your judgment. Then determine what you need to learn from individuals so that you can begin a framework for your questions.

Parental interviews should provide information about the child's history as well as clarify each parent's view of the child. It is best to view children within a framework of total life experience. If possible, it helps to know the social, physical, and cultural aspects of the child's life. This information will assist you in planning an interview for this particular child and in setting your goals as an evaluator. It is important to structure the interview to obtain the necessary information and provide a situation in which the child can most comfortably be self-revealing. There can be a feeling of "free play," combined with your suggestions for structured play. You can begin the interview by asking specific questions to which the child already knows the answers. This will reduce the child's anxiety level. Beginning questions can be in regards to the child's school, age, etc. As the child begins exploring, you can then begin to ask the child to tell you some things about the child's life.

Interview Setting

Some evaluators always conduct children's interviews in their home. A home visit allows you an opportunity to enter that particular child's world and learn about the child's home and play environment. When doing a home visit, you may want to take certain items to use in the interview. The items depend on the age of the child and on the information you are trying to elicit. Try to include drawing paper (large and small), felt pens, crayons, puppets, games, and a deck of cards. After the initial greetings with the family, you may ask the child to show you the child's bedroom and play area and then proceed with the interview in a room that is separate from the rest of the family. Before leaving the home, observe the child with the family and engage them in some interactive family activity.

In the interview, it is preferable to have a setting that draws the child's interest. Play materials need to be selected which the child can relate to and bring forth fantasies, dialogues, and material relevant to the evaluation. Too many toys can over-stimulate a child or distract the child from engaging in any structured play.

Young children are most apt to think logically in situations that contain materials, behaviors, and motivations that are familiar and meaningful to them. It often helps to bring items that are currently popular with kids.

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