“It is easy running children’s groups” I overheard someone saying, “You establish the rules quickly up front so they know what is expected then they relax and become quite chatty.”
It is true, if you play teacher or parent the kids know how to respond to that and play their role very well. But it is a role, as at school or with their parents they know that there is a right and a wrong answer to your questions and will be constantly trying to give you the answer that they think you want.
Every parent knows that you get a very different insight into their world when they forget that you are there. When they chat with their friends in the back of the car or they have not spotted that you are listening as they play alone, with their siblings or friends.
Children have a surprisingly mature sense of their world – a true Emotional Intelligence exists from about 18 months old. When given a real opportunity to express their own views and responses they can be very expressive. They may lack the vocabulary of an adult, but will be highly articulate when allowed to use metaphors – describing products and experiences by using colours, sounds and other parallel sensorial analogies. What they are not used to is an adult that is genuinely interested in their view, listens and does not correct them.
Researching food with children is fun. Uninhibited by social niceties they express their opinions clearly and often very concisely. Also, they spend no time trying to rationalise their response and give it in a raw emotional way that is far more accurate and far more insightful than what you get from their parents. Given the opportunity they can also explain to you far better than most adults exactly what it is about a product that they like or do not like.
Children’s groups are never boring, as you are in the middle of a great conversation gaining fantastic insights one of them will invariably knock their yogurt all over the floor, spill their drink or realise that they are sitting on the square of chocolate that they lost and it has melted everywhere. But this is yet another opportunity to gain even greater insight as they then tell you about what happened at home when their brother did the same…