Carlene Wilson
What truly makes research with children work?
8 mins

I’ve always been a fan of a ‘catch-up’ and checking in with the VIPs in my life. I like to make sure they are doing okay and things are well. It also means that when things aren’t going well, I’m there to support in whatever way I can. We all do this instinctively in our personal lives, and brands and businesses are at their best when they incorporate consumer check-ins into their core practices.

That’s what audience research represents to me, a ‘catch-up’ to see how everything is going. A temperature check to see if, as a brand, we’re doing well, or if we’ve got some creases that could do with a good ironing.


In my experience, the most impactful research projects have always come from asking specific questions and really digging into the detail. Take the multigenerational dynamic of children and families as an example. Here, brands must work twice as hard - content and activations must gain the trust of the parents AND service the needs and wants of the children. 

Don’t be deterred by this though - conducting research in this space can be an incredibly enlightening process, especially if the children are of an age when they haven’t quite worked out how the world works. If you’ve ever spoken to a young child, it’s always interesting to see how they connect the dots of life and it’s a perspective that should be sought out whenever possible.

Here’s where a developmentally appropriate approach really comes into play. The experience must ensure the child is in an environment where they feel comfortable - easier said than done sometimes. I’ve had the pleasure of trying some innovative methods of collecting those all-important insights, but sometimes just letting children play can be the most valuable and relevant approach. Making sure the research addresses the questions posed is the main thing.

This is why, for me, including children during a process such as product development can provide fascinating insights. How their smaller hands can interact with a product or how the child will approach and process a set of instructions can be the success or failure of a product. In cases where a lot of time and resource has gone into developing a product, it’s always best to find out sooner rather than later. 

It’s always important to achieve a true representation of children's views, even if they haven’t quite got all their words together. This is where parents become instrumental in children and family research. The parents have a dual role, they are the conduit to the child's feedback as well as an essential source of information.

I like to think of parents as research allies, particularly in projects that involve younger children. During quantitative research, they can supervise and support responses. During qualitative research, they come into their own, as interpreters of answers and actions, as well as behaviour managers (they are dealing with their child after all!). This allyship enables us to understand the reactions with as much transparency as possible to really represent the views of the children for the betterment of the project.

Parents also provide the adult’s perspective within the family dynamic which is the binding agent that brings a children and family research project together. As gatekeepers between brands and children, their input is just as invaluable. They can provide vital context and real-world impact on key performance measures. 

More recently I’ve noticed how parents are increasingly open to hearing the views of their children and this is a positive change. This change in parenting combined with young people having access to the digital world, is creating a generation that brands need to engage with as soon as possible. Gen Alpha might be children, but they are going to be an exciting generation to watch, much like Gen Z.

All of this is to say that embracing a developmentally appropriate approach is key to really understanding your audiences and for those pitching to the children and family market, it’s not enough to just speak to children or parents. All parties are important.

So next time when you check in with a client, ask about their audiences and bring the topic into your conversations as part of the decision-making process. When this is done with respect and transparency, it also has the added benefit of building trust and authenticity. Traits that consumers truly value in their brands. 

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