We are often asked what to consider when doing research with children. Can a 6-year old answer a questionnaire on her own – without the help of her parents? How to address the children properly? Which questions to ask to be understood – which wordings to use?
This is exactly where our expert knowledge comes in, as we have been performing market research with children for more than 20 years and know exactly what to look out for. The first thing to remember is that children are not small adults. Interviewing them demands a high degree of empathy. What’s more, depending on their age, children vary greatly in terms of their emotional, cognitive and motor skills. A 6-year-old and a 14-year-old have very different abilities and requirements when it comes to developmental psychology and this must all be taken into account when preparing studies. In light of this, for the most frequently recurring topics, we have created specially designed studies and questionnaires that meet the needs of children at various stages of development.
It is imperative to clearly divide the children into age groups at the outset. While the children should not be overstretched, it is also important to ensure that they do not become too bored during the survey.
Generally speaking, we do not interview children who are less than around 6 years of age. When it comes to children younger than this, it makes more sense to focus primarily on questioning their parents instead. During such “tandem” interviews, it is possible to ask the children simple questions, such as whether they like a product. However, nursery-age children cannot be expected to give responses any more sophisticated than this.
On this note, it is also important to develop questionnaires of an appropriate length. The younger the children, the shorter their attention span and this should be taken into account when designing the questionnaire. As a rule of thumb, when calculating an appropriate interview length, we allow roughly two minutes per year of the child’s age.
A few important rules to follow when developing questionnaires for children:
- Open the interview on a positive, reassuring note – children who feel at ease are more likely to give honest answers. Include an introduction, e.g. that there are no right or wrong answers.
- Formulate the questions in an age-appropriate way – remember that it all comes down to the right vocabulary. A child of primary school age has a very different range of vocabulary to a teenager. This may mean that different versions of a questionnaire are required for various age groups.
- Keep the questions as short as possible – children are often unable to understand overly long questions.
- Questions must be able to be taken literally – without any room for interpretation.
- Address the respondents directly – do not use any impersonal language when formulating the questions.
- Focus on “feelings” instead of purely cognitive content – “What do you like?”, “What do you want?”.
- Use positive as opposed to negative formulations – children find disagreeing with negative statements too complicated.
- Focus on the present – children find it difficult to recall a past event.
- Use visual scales – addressing children with visual stimuli such as emojis increases their comprehension and makes them more motivated.
- Use the same short scales wherever possible – children often struggle to choose between different options. Provide younger respondents with just two to three options.
- Use audio-visual aids – photos and videos help keep children’s attention.
- Use surveytainment to make questionnaires more fun to complete – most children have strong technology skills and love being given a computer or tablet to use. Photos and other visual materials in particular can be integrated into online questionnaires in a fun way.
- Consider children’s fine motor skills when creating online questionnaires – questions must be designed in such a way that even the youngest respondents can cope with them.
In a nutshell, to ensure questionnaires for children are a success and produce valid results, it is essential to remember that children are children. They think largely in pictures, have a strong sense of intuition, are very creative and spontaneous, and discover the world through play.
On top of this, it is, of course, imperative to comply with all legal requirements. It goes without saying that when recruiting children we observe all guidelines set by ESOMAR and the German Association for Market Research (BVM). This means that we always obtain prior consent from the children’s parents or legal guardians.
Are you planning to conduct a market research study with children?
Contact us today. We would be happy to help!
Phone: +49.911.393 64 0