I was working on a story at a school not too long ago and this post walked into my head practically ready-made. I wish someone had told me this stuff a long time ago, because interviewing kids is really tough. It's hard to get a child to talk intelligently about a topic of my choosing in convenient ten-second clips.
Many of the pointers below assume the kids are in a group setting (school, camp, etc). And I don't suggest them because I'm great with kids (I'm not). Everything I suggest below I've learned through trial and painful error. And anyway, kids teach me that every time I think I've got it right, I find out I don't.
1) Remember to get your permissions. If you're in a school or daycare, make sure to check with the teachers whether there are children who can't be pictured or quoted. Most schools now have release forms for parents to sign. If a parent is present, simply ask for permission. Do not proceed if you aren't sure about whether you have appropriate permission, particularly if the story could have implications for the child or his/her family.
2) Don't talk down to them. Use simple language (that goes for adults too) but never underestimate how smart they are or how much they understand.
3) Avoid any questions that allow for a one word answer. Very few children will elaborate on anything, and one word answers won't help you.
Try questions that start with:
"Why did you..."
"What did you think of..."
Avoid questions that begin with:
"When did you..."
4) If working for radio or television, mic yourself. Often children's answers will only make sense when you hear the question as well, so it's essential that the reporter's voice comes through clearly.
5) Find an outgoing child. Unlike adults, who may open up if you talk to them for a few minutes, I've found children either open up at once, or not at all. From a reporter's point of view, it is not practical to cox something out of a shy child. It is unlikely to be a good clip and you don't have the time. If they won't open up right away, you must cut your losses and try another child.
6) Don't choose the chatterbox. You want outgoing, but not the Tazmanian devil (because there's always one). The chatterbox won't stay on topic and won't actually listen to your questions. They just want to talk to anyone who will listen about what they want to say.
7) Watch out for the divas. Kids these days! They're ridiculously media-savvy. They know exactly what is going on when a camera or a microphone comes out and if you're not careful they'll mob you like deer at Marineland. They'll wave at the camera or jump in front of you, screaming "We're gonna be FAMOUS!"
8) Ask them what they see. If you're desperate for a quote, remember that kids are good visualizers. (This works really well on radio, and with some creativity could work in other mediums). Ask them to describe to you what something looks like, or what it looked like. As a follow up question try asking, "What do you think of that?"
If you have suggestions, please comment.