Child-friendly communication

Talking to children is something that most people do every day. For professionals who work with children, it is an essential activity.

To help strengthen the child’s participation; the guardian should assist the child to form his or her own views by keeping him or her adequately informed of all relevant aspects; taking into consideration the child’s age and maturity. Information should be provided in a child-friendly way. To be effective; it should be given in oral and/or written form; depending on what is most appropriate; and should be provided in a language that the child understands; taking into consideration the child’s age; maturity and developing capacities. The guardian should make sure that the child understands and can recall the information provided.1

An informal atmosphere is also important. Most refugee children have learned that you should not look an older person in the eye, as that is impolite. It is therefore better to talk to a young refugee while taking a walk, driving in the car or playing a game, rather than simply sitting opposite each other.

  • Information

    Risks of post-trauma debriefing

    Talking to unaccompanied children about their past can bring back traumatic memories and cause stress and grief. So don’t ask the child about their traumatic experiences. Instead, wait for them to start talking about it themselves. And don’t ask any questions once the child does start talking about their experiences. The child should be the one who decides what they will or will not share with you.

    A number of randomised studies showed that debriefing after traumatic events generally has no positive effect and sometimes even a damaging effect on the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Jongedijk (2010) suggests that natural processing of the trauma can be influenced in a negative way because of the stress that information on post-traumatic stress reactions can provoke. The author gives advice for care after traumatic events that is often based on stimulating social support, social activities and relaxation, meeting the person’s needs, inquiring about thoughts and feelings, discussing unrealistic thoughts and feelings, and stimulating peer support contact and talking about the events with others2.

  • Training and tools

    Tool: Are you listening to me? Communicating with children from four to twelve years old.

    More information on how to conduct conversations with children can be found in the publication ‘Are you listening to me? Communicating with children from four to twelve years old’. (Author: Martine F. Delfos; Publisher: SWP; Amsterdam. 2001). Among other things, the publication looks at how to get a child to talk about what is on their mind, which questioning techniques are suitable for which age, and how to estimate the mental age of a child. Dr Martine F. Delfos is a Dutch psychologist and psychotherapist specialised in working with children and adults with multiple traumatic experiences. She works in the field of child welfare and teaches psychologists, doctors, social workers and group leaders in children’s homes.

    Tool: information and examples of interviewing an unaccompanied child

    The CONNECT-project (2014) has developed the tool ‘Standards to ensure that unaccompanied migrant children are able to fully participate’ to assist all actors in legal and judicial proceedings. This includes standards on interviewing unaccompanied children. The tool also gives some examples of noteworthy practices and is available here.


  • Good practises

    The Netherlands

    Since 2016, Nidos guardians have been able to involve cultural mediators to make sure they understand the child and to improve communication with them. Their experiences have been very positive and Nidos is now developing an education programme for cultural mediators that will be ready in 2019.