Interviewing Children - pg. 2

Interviewing Using Art

During the initial part of the interview, focus on helping the child feel comfortable and relaxed, and explain to the child why the interview is taking place. You can let the child explore and move towards getting the child to share something about the child's self. Then share with the child your role in the process using drawings or pictures. You can depict meeting with the child's parents and to explain the importance of getting to know the child. Encourage the child to ask any questions the child may have. As a way of reducing anxiety and engaging the child, you may introduce the "squiggle game," ask the child to "draw yourself," play a game of hangman (latency-aged children), or play the card toss. (Game details to follow.)

Children and Art

Drawings can provide another cue to the child's developmental level. Universal developmental sequences are observable in children's drawings. All children draw what they know (their "idea" of the object), rather than what they see. Younger children's drawings do not usually reflect reality, but are more abstract. Children tend to draw what is important to them and what they remember, for example figures representing people, animals, houses, or trees. In one book about child custody, the author writes that she believes a child's drawing of rainbows represents a wish for peace and harmony in their family. It is also possible that rainbows, which are very popular in children's stories, advertisements, toys, stickers, etc., are something that children easily remember and, therefore, enjoy drawing. You must use caution in making interpretations about children's drawings. Drawings are a nonverbal clue to help us understand the child.

Some deviations in children's drawings that require particular attention are: scattered body parts, the absence of persons in a scene, striking incongruities, the defacing of a just-drawn figure, and rigid robot-like figures. The following are considered clues of neurotic behavior or feelings of inadequacy: drawing very small figures or very large parent figures; excessive shading, hiding, or emphasizing genitalia; sex role confusion; emphasis or omission of limbs; and darkened clouds and sun.

Games and Art Activities

Squiggle Game

This game was introduced by D.W. Winnicott. Winnicott describes squiggles as a way to loosen a child's defenses and to begin communication with the child. In this game, the child and interviewer each take a turn making a "squiggle" on a blank sheet of paper. A squiggle is a continuous line drawn in circles or any other shapes. The child creates a drawing from the squiggle and describes what they've drawn. Some children will color in each shape and others will make the shape look like some animal. Use it as a safe, non-threatening way to engage children of many ages.

Draw Yourself

Use this task to provide an indicator of the child's developmental level and to get a sense of the child's perception of self. Ask the child to draw a picture of himself or herself. After the child completes the drawing, ask the child to give you some words that tell you what this child is like, thinking, or feeling. If this is a young child, write the words on the child's picture. If the child is older, ask the child to write the words: this would give you an idea of writing and spelling skills.


Most children eight and older know how to play hangman. Use paper and ask the child to draw a hanging platform and pick a word for you to guess. If the child seems very relaxed during the interview, ask the child to pick a word that will tell you how the child feels about being in this interview. If the child is not sure how to spell the word, get someone to write it on a piece of paper for them. The child then draws blank lines to represent each letter of the word below the hanging platform. Begin guessing letters; if they are not part of the word, the child writes the letters along the side of the board and begins to "hang you" by putting a part of the body on the noose for each letter that is guessed incorrectly. If you guess the correct letter, it is written on the appropriate blank line. The objective is for you to either guess all of the correct letters or guess the word. If you have not guessed the word by the time an entire body is drawn, then you are "hung" and the child reveals the word, and wins the game.

Card Toss

Place an empty wastebasket on the far side of the room. Using a deck of cards, you and the child take turns tossing a card into the basket. Keep score as to how many cards are successfully tossed in the wastebasket. If it is a small child, make sure the child is standing closer to the basket than you. This also works well when you are meeting siblings together, because it provides a good opportunity to observe sibling interaction.

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