Building rapport with children


It is extremely easy to get on with kids.

Why do I start with this? Because whether you get on with them or not will entirely depend on how you decide it’s going to be. If you worry about it ahead of time, dread what could happen and overthink the whole thing then it will indeed be a struggle because you’ve decided it will be so.  You can start by doing this exercise.

  1. Find somewhere quiet and free from distractions then look straight ahead of you. This is where you are now, your present state. Be conscious of the here and now and what you’re thinking. Keep your eyes up because if they venture down you will be connecting with your feelings. Think about the brief, visualise it and think about what you have to do and the questions you need to consider, imagine the discussion guide or the brief or concept boards.
  2. Now look up and to your right and visualise how well the research is going to go. Imagine the kids responding enthusiastically, see them in your mind’s eye answering your questions and looking at the stimulus material. Catch yourself doing a great job and covering everything you need and getting great insight. Visualise your client thanking you for a job well done.
  3. A positive visualisation is key to being in the right state for a children’s research experience. Starting the process with an ‘I can’ or a ‘this is easy’ resourceful belief will enable you to be in a really good place when you engage with them at the start of the process. When you have a mind-set that they will be lovely kids who want to help you, then they will be.

The map is not the territory

Let’s face it, it was a long time since you were a child. It was a long time since your client was a child. The chances are that the discussion guide will not be written with a child in mind. It will be a list of questions that your client wants to ask children and the order will seem logical to them but not relate to your child respondent’s map of the world. So in order to engage them and not break that wonderful rapport you have built when you went into the waiting room to say ‘hi’ before the group started, you need to get them on-side by entering their map of the world.

A good way to do that is to ask pretty easy questions that very obviously don’t have right or wrong answers. Children fear failure more than anything else; they have long experience of teachers and parents and know that there is always a ‘right’ answer. Here amongst other children they don’t know, they certainly don’t want to look an idiot so it’s a good idea to start off with a simple question that anyone can answer and one that will mean everyone has something valid to say (it’s important everyone speaks during those first few minutes). I might say ‘well you know we’re going to be talking about x so when I say x what immediately comes to mind, what words or phrases, are there any colours, shapes, sounds you associate with x?’ Write them all up on a flip chart and circle any themes in different colours because you will probably want to come back to them later as they appear in your discussion guide. When they do, by using the actual words the children have used, you will recreate that rapport.

By doing this, you are respecting their map of the world, recognising that we are visiting and need to know the rules of the territory, what is important to them in this place, what it looks, sounds and feels like and how they relate to it. Brands are brands because they tell a story so use their words to explore it for the client.

Being curious about the territory, wanting to know and being prepared to be ‘not knowing’ aids rapport because they don’t know what we’re up to, what we want to know, who we are, why we want to know or what will happen next. Here’s another exercise.

  1. Find somewhere quiet and free from distractions. Now think about a time when you were really curious, maybe watching a murder mystery, reading an exciting book and wondering what will happen next, watching a fascinating documentary or learning a new skill.
  2. When you’ve thought of this time, imagine it is something you’re doing right now. Turn up the volume, the colours, the feeling of curiosity. When it is at its most intense, squeeze your earlobe. Release it as the feeling goes. Do this three times. In between each occasion, give yourself a bit of a shimmy and a shake to break state.
  3. This is called ‘anchoring’ and what you’re doing is creating an anchor or gesture to remind yourself of this state of being curious. It is a child-like state so you will be totally in rapport with the kids and it is a state that reflects the fact that this is not your world so you need to have an open mind and heart ready to soak in all that you experience.

These are just two concepts that come to mind when I think of working with children. There are more……… this space!

Judy Bartkowiak has four children, ran a Montessori Nursery School for 7 years, runs NLP Kids, a training and coaching company working with children, parents and young people and works freelance as a children’s market researcher. She is also the author of ‘Learn Market Research in a Week’ so clearly she has a sense of humour too and that helps build rapport!


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