Qual Quant (2015) 49:319–338
Children’s verbal, interactive and cognitive skills
and implications for interviews
Published online: 4 March 2014
© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014
Abstract Child respondents challenge social scientists because their verbal, interactive, and
cognitive skills are not just different from those of adults, but also vary among children. To
develop adequate methods for interviewing children, we need to learn more about those skills
in interview settings and their dependence on age. Based on 112 semi-structured interviews
with children aged 5–11 years, we studied children’s verbal, cognitive, and interactive skills.
Fifty-six children were each interviewed twice, once face to face and once via telephone.
Through an innovative triangulation of qualitative and quantitative analyses, children’s skills
and related gains and limitations of each interview mode were examined. The applicability
of semi-structured interviews was evaluated with skills and respondent’s age in mind, and
recommendations for conducting interviews are made.
Keywords Children’s skills · Qualitative interview · Semi-structured interview ·
Children as respondents · Age effect · Mixed methods
During the last century there has been a paradigm shift in the social study of childhood (James
and Prout 1990). The image of children changed from “adults-to-be” toward independent
“actors in their own right.” In the process of the so-called ‘paradigm-shift’ (Gallacher and
Gallagher 2008) children’s knowledge is now newly positioned within the societal hierarchy.
They are recognized as political or economically relevant beings “and the construction of
childhood that focused on the intellectual limitations and social and sexual ignorance of
children is now recognized as being overstated, if not simply untrue” (Scott 1997, p. 331).
This shift was also reﬂected in childhood research. First, this meant that children are
increasingly being seen as competent informants about their experiences or views. Research
is now carried out with children instead of on them (Christensen and James 2008)aswellas
S. Vogl (
Catholic University Eichstaett-Ingolstadt, Ostenstraße 24, 85071 Eichstaett, Germany