November 01, 2013

Using Narratives and Narrative Event Practices in Interviews with Children

Julie Kenniston

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

It is not new to use narrative-inviting questions in interviews with children. Research shows children give more information and more accurate information when asked free recall questions. The focus has shifted from merely asking lots of narrative questions to planning for and using a narrative event practice. 

The National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) interviewing protocol suggests adding a narrative event practice (training episodic memory) in the early stages of the interview on a neutral topic.

 Here is a sample narrative event practice between an interviewer (I) and child (C).

I: "Tell me all about your morning from the time you woke up until you left your house."

C: “My alarm went off but I rolled over. My mom yelled, ‘get up now!’ and I got up and went to the bathroom. Then I got dressed and ate breakfast. Got my stuff for school and left for the bus.”

I: “I heard you say that you got dressed. Tell me all about getting dressed.”

C: “I had to put on my school uniform. So I grabbed my shirt off the floor and put on my pants. They are the khaki ones. My blue ones were too dirty. I didn’t have any socks so I went into my dad’s drawer and took a pair of his. I put on my shoes by the front door.”

I: “Tell me all about your shoes.”

C: “We can wear any kind of shoes we want as long as they are black. I have black sneakers. I think my mom is gonna have to buy me new ones because my feet are getting big.”

This is an example of asking an event narrative question (the morning routine) with narrative follow-up questions. Inviting narratives in this way early in the interview has many purposes:

  • The interviewer engages the child.
  • The interviewer shows that she is a listener and is paying attention.
  • The interviewer gets a baseline of the child’s ability and willingness to communicate.
  • The interviewer explains and practices with the child the way that information will be shared.
  • The interviewer shows interest and doesn’t interrupt.


© May 2013, American Bar Association. For a complete text of Appendix G and references, see Handbook on Questioning Children: A Linguistic Perspective, Anne Graffam Walker, Ph.D., 3rd Edition, May 2013. ABA, $30, PC 34900008, ISBN: 978-1-62722-203-7