5 Reasons to Interview Your Kids
“Are you kidding me? I can’t get more than monosyllables, you think they’d sit still and have a whole conversation with me?”
Interviews aren’t necessarily easy. It’s subtle, but kids can usually tell if you’re asking questions about them — to check up on them, to see how well they know something, to judge their behavior — or if you actually want to hear about their thoughts on a subject. The purpose of an interview is to get their take on something (“What would be something funny to put on my head?” “Why do you think Superman wears a cape?”) without the daunting stakes of rightness or wrongness.
Believe it or not, interviewing your kids is not only possible, it can actually be a great experience for both of you. Ear Snacks, our podcast for kids, is built around the idea of parents interviewing their kids. Without fail parents come away surprised and delighted when they do (especially when they use these great tips for recording kids). Sure, there may be some initial microphone-shyness or screaming friends in the background. But once the topics get rolling and it’s clear you’re actually interested in their answers (rather than testing to see if they meet your expectations), the interview can be a fun, screen-free activity that can have some significant effects. I asked three of my colleagues from Kids Listen and an artist/educator/mom about the value of interviewing kids:
1. Makes Them Feel Like What They Say Matters
Mindy Thomas, host of Wow in the World:
From what I can tell from all of my years of interviewing kids, it’s that like any other human, kids want to know that their voice has a place in this world. That their thoughts, and ideas matter. That their stories are worth sharing.
Kitty Felde, host of Book Club for Kids:
I’ve interviewed hundreds of kids on the podcast — and even more back when we did a version of Book Club for kids on my public radio talk show — in dozens of schools and libraries around the world. I remember when I was 12 or so and hating it when adults talked down to me. If only someone would treat me like I had a brain in my head, I’d happily tell them anything. That’s the way I approach conversations on Book Club for Kids. Kids love to be asked their opinions and love it even more when you LISTEN to them. That’s the key.
2. Makes You Actually Listen To Them
Eliza Gregory, artist:
The most important thing I can do is really, genuinely listen to my daughter. What does she want out of this process, and is she getting that? Does she feel comfortable? How can I make her more comfortable? They also see listening — deep listening, hopefully! — being modeled, and this is an amazing and important thing. Think about the differences we might see in the world if everyone listened just a little bit better!!!
Taking the time to truly listen when a kid speaks is the most important thing you can do! What’s that saying? “If you want them to tell you the big stuff, you gotta listen to the little stuff?” Something like that. Listening builds trust, confidence, and helps us to foster meaningful relationships with the kids in our lives.
3. May Teach You Something
Eric Butkus, producer of The Show About Science/dad to Nate:
I’ve learned Nate’s really good off the cuff, which usually makes for great tape. He likes to be on camera too, so that usually motivates him. He’s a performer!
[I’ve learned] I have an anxious, self-aware, smart and funny daughter. She is very aware of Ear Snacks as an arena where her interview will be broadcast (we are avid listeners), and her dad and I struggle to figure out how to support her to be aware of that outcome, but not paralyzed by it. Interviewing is a great way to get myself to slow down and really listen to my daughter in a much more formalized way. For example, in an interview you tend to listen to an ENTIRE answer someone is giving, not just cut them off as soon as you have your own thing to say in response. This is great practice for being a more patient parent and family member in general. (For me! I like to talk and often cut people off. I am sorry my family!)
4. May Make You Laugh
I have two kids in elementary school, and everyday on the way home, I ask them to “tell me something that made you laugh today.” I’m not sure why, or how it started, but that single phrase gets them to open up every time. Today, I learned that while watching a math video at school, my 7-year-old daughter Birdie, and her buddy reacted to the video as if they were watching a horror movie. “It was SO HILARIOUS!” I’m sure I’ll get a different account from her teacher later today, but if I had asked her “What did you learn in school today?” the answer would have been “NOTHING.” At least I got something!
Part of what you realize when you listen to kids is how complex their understanding of things is, even as it’s also got big gaps. For example, I had a conversation with a three-year-old yesterday, named Madeline. She asked me where my dog, Poppy was, and I said, “Poppy is off with my husband Ryan at a writing retreat. It’s at a cabin in the forest, and so we knew she’d have a good time playing in the woods and so he took her with him.” And Madeline said, “But how is Poppy going to write?” That is such a perfect example of how a young person, who is missing the knowledge of conventions — both social and linguistic — that helps adults communicate more efficiently, allows her to approach something from a radically new angle, that yields a hilarious or poignant interaction, and sometimes also a profound insight. Creating opportunities for formal exchange between adults and young people creates the space for this kind of moment to happen.
5. Creates a Time Capsule
I don’t know how these kids will feel years from now. I was thinking of that when I put up the YouTube videos from Book Club for Kids episodes we taped a hundred years ago in Los Angeles. Those kids probably have kids of their own by now! But I think they’d be pleasantly surprised at how smart and articulate they were as kids.
The first time we really listened back to the early episodes was when Nate was on Sampler. You know how it is. When you’re working, it’s rare that you go back and listen to the early stuff. You’re just focused on the next episode. But the first thing that we noticed on Sampler was Nate’s speech. He couldn’t pronounce his L’s and R’s. (NOTE: To be fair, Nate starting podcasting when he as five.) He can now read and write and he now knows how to do follow up questions. We actually practiced follow up questions in the car when we were running errands one day.
It’s amazing to think about how much we all change. Phsyically, Ainsley’s voice changed so much from before she had her tonsils out to after. We had been worried about that decision — it was hard to put her into surgery — but when we went back and heard the difference in how she sounded, it actually helped us feel a lot better about going through with it, because you could really tell how much her airway was being blocked by the swelling of her tonsils and adenoids. That’s a very visceral example of a change — of course there are so many linguistic and emotional and developmental changes that get marked as well.
Last week, I was having dinner with my husband and kids at a restaurant. My 9-year old son Rhett, busted out with “Would you rather me get a tattoo or smoke a cigarette?” (Uh…Tattoo DUH!) I hope he’s planning on doing either of these things, but this question led to a 40-minute impromptu game of irreverent, family “Would You Rather.” We were all laughing so hard from each other’s questions and answers that tears were shooting from our eyeballs and onto our plates. Afterwards, I took my 7-year-old daughter Birdie, to the restroom, and she said, “I just love when we’re having a conversation that’s so good, I don’t even want to get out of it.” I’ll never forget that moment.
If you’re interviewing a kid…whether you know them or not, made them or not — if the conversation is so good that neither of you even want to get out of it, you’re probably doing it right.
So, are you convinced? Give it a try and set yourself up for success with these great Tips for Interviewing Kids. One thing’s for sure, it’s pretty fun to flip the mic and have them interview you…
Andrew Barkan makes Ear Snacks, a podcast for younger kids about the world.
Eliza Gregory is an artist, educator & mom living in Woodland, CA.
Eric Butkus produces his son Nate’s podcast The Show About Science from Wilmette, IL.
Kids Listen is a grassroots organization of advocates for high-quality audio programming for kids.
Kitty Felde hosts and produces The Book Club for Kids podcast.