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Communicating with children


By Rina Gill

© UNICEF 1996-1406 Pirozzi

As a young development professional working in the slums of New Delhi and Bombay, I witnessed the power of children as agents of change within both their own families and their communities. Children as young as eight were not just promoting hand washing but were getting their parents to accept the idea of them studying, playing and eating with children from other communities and caste groups. Anyone who has seen the tenacity of discriminatory practices around the world will understand the significance of this social change. I was convinced that if we were serious about transforming the world in one generation, we needed to communicate not just with adults (whose attitudes and habits are often firmly entrenched) but also with children. As we know, children are open, receptive, curious, eager to try out new things, infinitely resourceful and tenacious in pursuit of a cause.

What I wasn’t so sure about was how to communicate with children in ways that are age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, inclusive and positive, that help build self-esteem and confidence, and perhaps most importantly, are interesting and engaging. The guidance and tools that I found provided a considerable amount of theory but hardly any concrete advice on how to translate that theory into practice. When I looked for child-oriented communication materials from within the development community, I found that the focus was primarily on reaching adolescents. In addition, even when an entertaining medium (such as animation) was used, the results were often dull and didactic. Younger children, especially those under age ten, seemed to be forgotten altogether. The rich and varied cultural contexts in which children live and learn, tended to be neglected in favour of western-oriented global prototypes that were adopted across all regions.

On joining UNICEF in the mid-1980s, I decided to work on closing the gap between theory and practice, and help develop the guidance and tools that I so sorely missed when I needed them most. Fortunately, UNICEF is an organization that encourages, and is willing to invest in, innovation. It combines knowledge from the fields of child development and media studies with insights from children’s media production, to provide simple information on developmental norms at different stages of a child’s life.The journey has taken 25 long years of constant experimentation. It has involved interacting with, and being guided by, children. Of learning as much from failures as from successes. It has also meant identifying experts who combine technical knowledge with creativity and experience in children’s media production; practitioners who understand different cultural contexts; and the rare adults who still remember how it felt to be a child. My search ended with Barbara Kolucki, the primary author of this publication. The next challenge was to find a scholar and expert in children’s media, who could provide the academic rigour required to anchor rich practical experience in solid theory. Dafna Lemish, the co-author, was a perfect fit for the role. Our journey together has been exciting, challenging, sometimes frustrating – but always fun.

The product of this effort is this resource pack, Communicating with Children. It combines knowledge from the fields of child development and media studies with insights from children’s media production, to provide simple information on developmental norms at different stages of a child’s life. It helps us understand the implications these norms have on what and how we can communicate most effectively with children of different age groups. It shares examples of good practice, many produced at very low cost by young professionals from around the world, to show how we can adhere to human rights and child rights principles, and address the child more holistically, while also creating communication that is engaging and enjoyable.

So the next time a development professional asks: “How can I harness the power of communication to help fulfil the survival, development, participation and protection rights of children in a manner that is positive, respectful, stimulating and fun for children and their families?”, they can start by opening the pages of this resource pack or accessing the related website https://www.unicef.org/cwc/ to get guidance.

UNICEF and its partners continue to strengthen their focus on communication and child participation as critical factors in fulfilling the rights of all children.

They are working in particular, towards more effective action on article 17 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which recognizes the child’s right to access “information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health”. Understanding how children of different age groups process information, how they perceive, learn from, conceptualize and act upon what they see and hear, will go a long way in ensuring that what – and how – we communicate with children, is effective and empowering. This resource pack is a contribution towards building that understanding within the spirit of the CRC. We hope you enjoy using it and will benefit from it as much as all of us have benefited from the process of developing it.

Rina Gill
Associate Director, Division of Policy and Practice



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