Comms for Kids: Dos and don’ts when communicating to children and young people

August 12, 2020
Kids on a jumping castle

Usually here at The Social Deck we work with Grown-Ups on Very Important Subjects that we all have to take Very Seriously All Of The Time. We love it, and we’re very good at it. But we also jump at the opportunity to work with and communicate to children and young people.

Our expertise in communicating with children is broad, with an ex-teacher, a kid’s television producer, and plenty of parents on our team. But we’re always learning new things from children and young people whenever we work with them.

Children and young people aren’t necessarily an easy audience. They are discerning and kind of ruthless! But that’s what makes them such a rewarding audience to communicate to. If kids don’t like what you’re offering they aren’t shy to tell you and they won’t stay engaged just to be polite. The upside? This gives you clear parameters to work to.  

If you get the chance to communicate to kids, take it – it will force you to practice making deliberate choices and make your communication for grown-ups better in the long run.

These are things we’ve learned to do – and not to do! – when communicating with children and young people.

❌ DON’T talk down to kids or skip valuable or relevant information because you think they won’t get it.

✅ DO address kids like the whole human beings that they are, with respect and recognition. We’ve seen teenage students bring together compelling ideas and solutions to big issues, and even present these to Ministers! They are often on par with any other community member when it comes to finding solutions.

❌ DON’T go into textbook mode and make your content too dense with pure information

✅ DO break content up into interesting chunks for kids to explore. Use theme and storytelling to connect the dots, and if you can, include interactive elements to keep their minds exploring.

✅ DO repeat concepts in creative ways and to build upon information, especially in presentations and videos.  For example, if you pay attention to the script in this video tour of Unitywater’s Sewage Treatment Plant you’ll notice just how repetitive it is – the structure is basically one step backwards, two steps forward from start to finish.

DO give enough context and interesting information to pique your audience’s fascination. Then they can go looking for more in-depth content. We all know a kid who can name every dinosaur and will read a text book cover to cover and then go back and start it all over again – but something had to get them excited about dinosaurs (or space or history or animals or whatever) in the first place!

DON’T use jargon or long words if you don’t need to (good advice no matter the audience!).

✅ DO explain what technical terms mean if it is important to use them. Kids generally love learning new words they can test their parents with later. But stick to plain English and accessible language. Be friendly, fun, and creative in your language by using techniques like metaphor, alliteration, rhyme, and humour.

Comic author Randall Munroe proves that you don’t need technical jargon to explain something!

✅ DO create and use characters to help explain things (like a superhero or talking animal). They can be a great entry point and a helpful device for you to frame your story and concepts.

DON’T use jokes just for the sake of it, especially jokes that are too young for your audience

✅ DO go for toilet humour, silliness, and subverting expectations. Loosen up and think laterally.

We brought humour to a campaign to stop illegal rubbish dumping, thanks to some helpful wombat poo!]

DON’T overplay it with rainbows and cartoons and busy visual design.

✅ DO get creative and colourful to make your content pop. Kids soak up everything on the screen or the page, so use your medium to its full potential while following best practice and accessible graphic design standards.

Our illustrator Kirstin knows how to strike just the right balance between making the most of the visual real estate while keeping the design clean.

DON’T try to second guess what kids like or assume kids all like Kids’ Stuff.

✅ DO clearly define which ‘kids’ you’re communicating to. It helps to segment the audience of ‘young people’ into different personas or archetypes so you can think about how different people react to different messages.

✅ DO trust your instincts and your inner child and embrace your dorky, silly side. Diversify and differentiate your approach. Just like grown-ups, kids connect and engage with information in different ways and appreciate variety. If you can, run a mini-focus group with any kids in your life and take their advice.  

For example, just because kids like bright colours doesn’t mean they have to be ugly! Pick the bright colours you’d prefer to look at, and kids are more likely to prefer them as well.

DON’T repeat the same formula over and over.

✅ DO revisit what works and combine it with fresh new ideas or angles. Mix and match your tried and tested formats and techniques with different subjects and mediums.

During a youth workshop, we had a graphic illustrator represent our participants’ contributions visually instead of having a scribe jot down notes.

DON’T stop at your final draft.

✅ DO take the time to look for little ways to more creatively communicate themes and ideas. For example, in our recent kids’ activities for Unitywater we made sure that even the titles were as creative as possible. Mazes set in a sewage plant and a beach became Super Sewage Send-off and Tiny Turtle Take-Off, a word scramble became Water Cycle Switcheroo, and a crossword became a Water Word Web.

You can also communicate theme visually, like in this word search where we used a water drop shape instead of a plain old rectangle

DON’T try to be cool.

✅ DO let kids have the limelight. Kids love and feel empowered by seeing themselves represented and sharing with their peers.

You might recognise that we’ve got a bit of a golden rule – children and young people deserve our respect and hard work. It’s just plain wrong to assume that we know everything and kids don’t. We’re always looking for ways to be as interesting as we can, and we listen to what kids have to contribute.

Like many niches, good communication for children and young people is good communication in general. So don’t forget a lot of these tips apply to any audience. Have fun applying them in your own work!

Check out more of our work with young people.

How can we help?
Casey Harrigan
Production Manager