As you will note from the previous section, communication for children needs to consider different abilities and needs at different ages, and thus must be child-centred and age-appropriate. Quality communication can support existing development programmes and priorities to address particular needs or competencies. These can be as varied as: the need to help children learn when and how to wash their hands correctly; the importance of everyone being treated with respect; how to prevent exploitation or abuse; getting ready for school; staying healthy while living with HIV/AIDS; or being prepared for an emergency.
But is there a better or fail-proof way to present these issues when communicating with children? What do we know about what does and does not work? For example, there is debate about the effectiveness of using “fear” in communicating to children and adults. Research suggests that fear-arousing messages can be ineffective and have a “boomerang effect” of stimulating negative behaviour if overused and if they do not offer acceptable solutions to the fear-arousing situation (1).
What are some good examples of effective communication products? Why did they work? Did they depict genuine life circumstances and convey a sense of cultural authenticity, accurately reflecting the personal perspective of those represented? What are some principles and guidelines that we can use to help ensure that our products are as effective as possible, especially for the most disadvantaged children? What follows are integrated principles, guidelines and examples of good practices in creating effective communication for children based on a comprehensive review of hundreds of projects and products developed by UNICEF and by other organizations and producers around the world in recent years.
Low-budget productions with modest but clear development goals have been chosen to suggest that such initiatives are possible even where resources are limited. Communication initiatives have been included that uniquely cater to the specific needs of the target child-audience both in the explicit as well as implicit messages. This document emphasizes the emotional and social needs of children in distress: Children who do not feel loved, secure and self-confident or who do not have healthy coping skills will have greater difficulty surviving as well as thriving cognitively and physically. Children who see themselves reflected with dignity and who are encouraged and nurtured to think critically will be better prepared to make healthy choices and actively engage in society. We believe that everything to which children are exposed has the potential to motivate learning and growth.
Following the principles for values-based communication for children are guidelines that intertwine with and support their corresponding principles. The guidelines are meant to nurture, inspire, excite, educate and heal.
Also included are a few ideas on how these guidelines can be used in practice across many priority areas and all types of programmes. Each guideline is supported by a positive example that is both practical and applicable in many different cultural contexts, and includes geographic, age, gender and media diversity.
A checklist of common pitfalls in developing communication for children is included in Part Five to serve as a reminder of all that has been learned and presented. Additional positive examples which support the principles and guidelines are provided in Part Six.
1. Witte, K. & Allen, M. (2000). A meta-analysis of fear appeals: Implications for effective public health campaigns. Health Education & Behavior (formerly Health Education Quarterly), 27, 608-632. Return to text