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Researching with families

I attended a BSA conference last week, ‘It’s a Family Affair: Researching with families’, and it made me reflect…  I have researched with (or probably more accurately on) children before.  I entered schools and was ‘sent’ children (prepped by their teachers, I presume) one at a time, to have them point to the ‘cup’ or ‘knee’ from a selection of pictures; or to read words aloud.

My current project is very different, and one of my biggest fears when interviewing young people is that I just won’t be able to get them to say anything!  Some researchers have reported that, keen as the child might be to help the research, at the point when they are asked the questions, they just shrug, smile and hold on to their teddy bear [1]!

It’s generally agreed that with interviews you have to ‘build rapport’ with participants; you have to make a connection and gain their trust so that they feel they can be open and honest in their answers.  For something deemed “one of the most important elements” [2] by some for getting rich, quality data from interviews, few papers say anything more than a line or two on how to go about it. The longest I’ve found is probably “The interviewer asked questions or made comments about the child’s personal life, such as family, school, and hobbies.” [3].

Fortunately, with our project, we decided it best to interview each child with a parent present, and they are already the experts in knowing how to make their child talk.  As additional benefits, I have found that their familiarity with the child also means they can greatly assist in assessing whether the child has understood my questions and ‘break down’ or rephrase as needed [4].  I’m also sure that for some of the youngest I’ve interviewed, just their parent’s presence made the interview situation seem less daunting.

Though interviewing a child with a parent present brings new challenges, as long as we are mindful of these, and employ strategies before and during the interview, it can also be hugely beneficial for our research.

Natalie Tyldesley-Marshall

[1] Coyne, I.T. et al. (2009) ‘Research with hospitalized children: Ethical, methodological and organizational challenges’, Childhood. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/13431777

[2] Elmir et al. (2011) ‘Interviewing people about potentially sensitive topics’, Nurse Researcher. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Lesley_Wilkes/publication/51841275

[3] Teoh, Y. & Lamb, M.E. (2010) ‘Preparing children for investigative interviews: Rapport-building, instruction and evaluation’, Applied Developmental Science. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233333205

[4] Pyer, M. & Campbell, J. (2012) ‘The “other participant” in the room: The effect of the significant adults in research with children’, Research Ethics. doi: 10.1177/1747016112464721. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1747016112464721

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