12 Tips for Interviewing Kids

We all know why interviewing your kids can be a fun activity & meaningful time capsule…now HOW do we go about doing that, exactly?

On our podcast Ear Snacks, we’ve helped dozens of families (with no background in journalism or audio recording) take the plunge. I asked three incredibly experienced interviewers-of-kids to share their secret sauce, the tricks of the trade of asking kids questions and getting something great back.

  1. Have a Snack First — Andrew Barkan, host of Ear Snacks:
A well-fed, rested, toileted interviewee is the best. So have a snack first! Both of you. And go to the bathroom. And don’t wait until nap-time/bedtime. And no snacks *during* the interview!

2. Orient Them Beforehand — Kitty Felde, host of Book Club for Kids:

We turn off cellphones, put books, papers, fidget spinners, etc. under our chairs and point out when kids are kicking their chairs. I tell them I get to hold the microphone (cause that’s why they pay me the big bucks!) and answer any questions before we start. I tell them what to expect and distract them by telling them the question I’ll ask at the end (what’s your favorite book?).

3. Drop the Mic — Andrew Barkan:

We’ve had lots of parents ruin some absolutely hilarious and meaningful tape because they keep their recording devices (often smartphones) in their hands or their lap or under a piece of paper to hide it from their kids. Hit record, put the phone down with the microphone (where you speak into during a phone call) nearest to your child, and have a chat.

4. Make It Fun & Give Them Space — Mindy Thomas, host of Wow in the World:

After 16 years of interviewing kids live on the radio, I’ve learned that kids (even the shy ones) are natural storytellers and improvisers. I think that the key to getting them to open up, is to make it FUN and give them space. Treat the interview as a conversation rather than an interrogation.

5. Don’t Step On Their Lines — Andrew Barkan:

It’s super counter-intuitive, but you have to stop yourself from asking a follow-up question or even just echoing or encouraging your kid before they’re done talking. Everybody does it, but it’s difficult to edit out — so after you ask your question, just give your child some time. The silence isn’t lasting as long as you imagine it!
Hmmm… Thinking by talking… about cookies.

6. Decrease the pressure — Eliza Gregory, artist:

Interviews can make kids feel special in a great way. It can also make them feel objectified, self conscious and fearful of making a mistake. It can also make them feel pressure to be funny, which usually translates into repetition, volume, inanity, and randomness. And noises as opposed to words. So as the interviewer, I try to watch out for when a kid is starting to feel more objectified than special, and see if I can change the situation a bit to push our interaction more towards special, or away from both, more toward unspecial, and unobjectified. That might mean taking away the pressure of sending it in to be broadcast, so that it becomes more genuine, more about me just being interested. Or I might just say, “We’re just thinking by talking a little here. You don’t need to say anything in particular. We’re just exploring these ideas together.” Or I might say, “Would you like to interview me instead?” I will think about the power dynamics that the interview has created or made visible, and I might try to change those around, so the interviewee feels like she has a little more control (and so she actually does have more control).

7. No Bystanders — Kitty Felde:

We tape shows within eyesight of teachers, parents, and librarians. But the kids clam up if THEY see the adult. They don’t feel that they can be frank with me if the important adult in their life is listening. So I try to position the kids so that they can’t see the adults and can focus on me.

8. Talk to them like adults — Kitty Felde:

Ask the followup question, validate their point of view, laugh at their jokes. In other words, interview them just the same way you’d interview an adult. No “fake” voices. Be sincere. Be open.

9. Open-Ended Questions — Mindy Thomas:

When talking to kids, I find that they’re much more willing to share their ideas when I warm up with a little nonsense humor, and start the conversation with the words “Hey! Tell me about…” Questions, even for adults, can sometimes feel loaded, as if there is a right or wrong answer. Nobody wants to be put on the spot right out of the gate! Kids are much more forthcoming with info when they’re excited to tell you something they just know you’re really gonna want to hear.

10. Don’t Rush! — Kitty Felde:

Recently, we taped a trio of girls at a library in Virginia and when I put the dreaded microphone in front of one girl, she froze. And then she cried! I felt awful. I told her that we edit everything so everyone sounds brilliant. I told her there were no wrong answers. Finally, I told her that I’d wait as long as she liked till she got her thoughts together. In her survey, filled out after the show, I was ready to be trashed. She wrote that it was one of the best experiences of her life!

11. Seduce Them With Silliness — Andrew Barkan:

Whenever I need to guide a kid toward an area of discussion, I find the best way to do it is to take a completely silly position on something related to that topic. Like, absurd. A straightforward question might not get the juices flowing the same way a ridiculous statement could. Sometimes kids are more happy to correct you than to offer you something they know when asked directly.

12. Imagination & Improvisation — Mindy Thomas:

LISTEN! You might have a whole list of questions to get through, but listening and following their crazy logic wherever it takes you, will get you to the really good stuff. And THIS is where you can start to challenge them with questions — they will always have answers. My favorite conversations with kids involve a healthy dose of imagination and improvisation…on both of our parts!

Not sure why you’d even want to interview a kid? Check out this article on why interviewing a child can be so wonderful.

Andrew Barkan makes Ear Snacks, a podcast for younger kids about the world.

Eliza Gregory is an artist, educator & mom living in Woodland, CA.

Kitty Felde hosts and produces The Book Club for Kids podcast.

Mindy Thomas hosts NPR’s Wow in the World podcast and The Absolutely Mindy Show on Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live.