Interviewing Children - pg. 7

10 to 13 Year Olds

Many of the activities mentioned for the 6 to 9 year olds are suitable for this age group. The most useful games are the drawing of the island. How do you feel when...?, Road of Life, and a variation of Hangman. For the latter, ask the child to think of a word that tells you how they feel about ... (for example, living with Dad, the way their parents get along, the amount of time they spend with Mom/Dad). The logical thinking for this group is advanced, so try to challenge them in some way. The following are some techniques:

Guessing Games

After familiarizing yourself with the child, engage them in the following: "I'm going to guess a few things about your life. I hope you'll tell me when I've guessed right or wrong." Then proceed with something such as "I'm going to guess that you like to go over to your Dad's because you don't get along with your stepbrother. Am I right?" You may try to say something that you know is wrong, so that the child will elaborate and correct you. They may enjoy proving you wrong.

The Debate

Take a situation and explain to the child that you are going to present some reasons why the situation should be a certain way. If the child thinks your reason has merit, then you get a point. The situation being debated, as well as the points gained, is written down on a piece of paper. If the child disagrees with your statement, then ask the child to present the reasons why the situation should be another way. Decide if the child's reason has enough merit to warrant a point and either give or don't give the point. Sometimes purposely withhold a point so that the child continues to advocate for the validity of their reason. This game has worked well in situations involving a child moving out of the area. You can ask the child to take the position they may not want to advocate (if you have a sense they do want to move, ask the child to argue on behalf of not moving).

Talk Show

Tell the child to pretend they are being interviewed or is appearing on a TV talk show. Ask the child, "What is your opinion about what children (in California) find difficult about being separated from their parent's?" Then ask the child to "give advice to the TV viewers about some things that might help kids whose parents no longer live with them."


The needs and conflicts of the teen are very important. Some adolescents withdraw from the family to protect themselves from pain, and may be very resistant to any questioning. In most cases, the first part of the interview should focus on encouraging the teen to talk about issues central to the child's life which are separate from the court action, such as dating, friends, classes, sports, and extra-curricular activities. These are a few other questions that may elicit discussion with a teen:
Ask them about what they think is going on with their family.
You might say, "I heard _____ happened. What was that like for you?"
"Your Mom/Dad already told me that you want _____. Will you tell me how he/she knows this?"
Ask them to tell you about their earliest memory.
Ask what has changed for them since being separated from their parents.
A few teens have responded to drawing when asked to draw their family, but instead of figures, ask them to use symbols (fruits, animals, etc.) to represent something about that parent. One teen drew a potato on a couch to represent his stepfather, a computer for his Mom, a musical instrument for his brother, and a boom box for one of his sisters. The drawing stimulated interesting conversation about his family. Sometimes teens like to be given paper and a pencil to doodle during the interview; sometimes the doodles can reveal some of their conflict.

Evaluate teens carefully; try to distinguish between normal adolescent independence and withdrawal, and what may be depression or intense anger related to the separation.

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