Friday, December 9, 2011

Interviewing the child - Part 2

In the previous post Kahless says

I have never drunk a cup of coffee in my life I dont have the inclination, though i do wonder if it is because as a kid, i distinctly remember my brother telling me i dont like coffee. powerful stuff eh!

This is exactly the next point I was going to make. In the previous post I referred to the idea of the leading question. One can also make a ‘leading statement’ as it could be called. Doing such a thing in interviewing a child can be positive or negative depending on the circumstances.

Children are more suggestible than adults because their Adult ego state is in a rudimentary form. As a result when an adult says something to a child it will accept it more freely than would an adult. The child cannot do the critical analysis or factual assessment of what is being said as effectively as an adult can.

Brick carrier

Consider this clinical situation:

A child reports that it has a pet fish which it loved very much. The previous day the cat climbed up on the aquarium, managed to snare the fish and eat it.

The child psychotherapist then says: “Oh, that is sad for you”.

This is a leading statement as it defines reality for the child.

Loss of loved fish = sad feelings

However the child may not be feeling that at all. At that point the child may be feeling anger at the cat and not sadness at the loss.

This can be a bad thing as it may lead to confusion in the child. As the child is highly suggestible it will take on the ‘facts’ provided by the counsellor much more readily. After hearing the counsellor’s comment the child may think,

“I thought what I was feeling was anger but it must sadness as I was told it was”. This can result in the child becoming confused about what is anger and what is sadness. The leading statement has resulted in a problem. The counsellor at least initially needed to ask a question, rather than make a leading statement. For example, “What are you feeling about what happened to your fish?”

Boy carrying fish

In another circumstance one may be counselling a child for anger management. The child who tends to be chronically angry. After some inquiry one discovers that the young boy has learnt that sad feelings are bad things and result in bad consequences. He may have been humiliated by his father when he cried at home. What he does is cover up his sad feelings with anger which is acceptable to his father. The problem is his sad feelings are never resolved and hence he ends up being chronically angry.

Thus the counsellor can make ‘suggestions’ to the child with leading comments such as, “People feel sad when their pet dies”. As they are more suggestible the child will take this comment on more so than an adult would. Such a statement gets planted deeper in the psyche of the youngster than the adult. In this case their suggestibility is being used for therapeutic advantage. (Of course one also makes sure there is not confusion about anger and sadness). The suggestion has affirmed that sad feelings exist, that the child does have sad feelings and that such feelings are appropriate at times


The key to such suggestions is for the counsellor to get the relationship with the child right first, get their timing right and deliver it in a way that will have the most impact.

Hence we get back to the comment by Kahless

I have never drunk a cup of coffee in my life I dont have the inclination, though i do wonder if it is because as a kid, i distinctly remember my brother telling me i dont like coffee. powerful stuff eh!

It is possible this was a suggestion inadvertently given by her brother. The circumstances were right at the time when he made the suggestion and she took it on as a fact. When that happens it is powerful stuff indeed my pommy friend!



  1. Interesting posts to read!

    As a kid, if you asked me what I was feeling about something, I would say nothing. I don't understand how I am suppose to know what "angry" or "happy" or any other emotion feels like. Thus, I have a hard time discussing what I am feeling. Someone can tell me that I am "sad". It doesn't feel like I am being any different than when I am "glad". I guess what I mean is that I can't personally recognize the switch/differences of how I feel in myself. Which probably doesn't make sense. I've gotten a bit better at it with people pointing out how I was acting two minutes ago and how I am acting at the present. I can then take a step back and notice the differences.

  2. In my childhood household the only emotion allowed was happiness. Anything deemed as negative was considered selfish/ungrateful etc. To this day I have to translate what I am feeling into a specific word and then it makes sense in my head. However, that has improved with therapy and things are a bit more instinctive.

  3. I'm laughing because my son's fish died over the weekend. (He's five.) When I told him that his fish was dead, I expected him to be upset. But instead he said, "Great! Can we get a dog now?"


  4. Yes Marie,

    It is fun sometimes to hear the logic of a child.


  5. Hello Linda,
    That's what is known as a happy racket. Certain feelings get positive strokes and certain feelings get negative strokes and then you can get the layering of feelings. Good to hear that you are able to understand more of a range of your feelings these days


  6. It sounds like the feelings were psuhed away Annalynn and I am sure for a good reason. The feelings are still there however. It is then when the therapist needs to give the child options via various strategies to again re experience those feelings. Sometimes that is not too hard and sometimes it is very hard


  7. I was very trusting of my siblings Tony. There is less than a year between by bro and sister and then I came along 4 years later. I was a sucker for doing what they suggested. But then again I remember my mother saying that when I spoke it was unintelligible and they used to translate. Apparently the health visitor thought I was mentally not all there but when my mother banned my siblings from translating, my language then improved.
    I remember my siblings telling me it was a good idea to peg wasps - I got stung!
    I remember my siblings telling me the white stuff in the green weeds was milk - it tasted disgusting
    Btw the diagram in your last post isn't strictly true. I adore milk and used to drink gallons of the stuff as a kid. I remember with affection being the milk monitor at school which meant I got to put the milk bottles by the radiator each morning to warm up before class drunk them.

  8. Hello Kahless,

    I think you have already identified a couple of conditions when working with children (and adults for that matter) that make a person more suggestible. the first is trusting the 'suggester' and the second is the strength of the transference relationship and if they were speaking for you that is going to be a very strong transference!

    Warming the milk!! At primary school we did everything possible to keep the milk cool


  9. It was lovely being a bit lumpy on top from the heat!

  10. Hi K,

    When I lived in England for a year at age 10 we used to have lunch at school. The one thing I loved was the warm lumpy custard. Others used to complain endlessly about the lumpy custard but I always loved the taste of it.


  11. Oh and BTW Kahless,
    one does note your adoration of milk and the fact that you even became the milk monitor at school!