Listening to Children’s Stories

Photo of Bryce Cass taken by Mike Stone, special contributor, The Dallas Morning News
Photo of Bryce Cass taken by Mike Stone, special contributor, The Dallas Morning News

I’ve always enjoyed interviewing children, mostly because they get excited about talking to reporters. No cold shoulders. No “off the records.” No shameless plugs. In the past when I’ve covered school events, all the teacher had to do was introduce me as “the lady from the paper” and children would swarm me. “What are you writing about?”, “Do you work for the newspaper?”, and the most frequently asked question: “Is my name going to be in the paper?!”

“Maybe!” I’d usually say, not knowing how many of the quotes I’d use.

While children are often enthusiastic to talk, they challenge journalists’ ability to ask good questions. If you ask a child a yes or no, close-ended question, they often reply with a one-word answer. So, I try to ask open-ended questions. Instead of “Did you have fun at the show?” I rephrase this question and ask: “What did you like best about the show?” or “Tell me about the show.” Sometimes, all you get is, “It was really fun,” but keep prodding. “What was really fun?”

This week, I interviewed a rising star, Bryce Cass. The 10-year-old from Rockwall, Texas, is one of the five children on this season’s Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? When I met him and his mother, Terry, I was struck by how close they seemed. At one point during the interview, Terry began to cry when I asked her how proud she is of her son. Bryce ran over to her and threw his arms around her neck, pressing his face against hers. “It’s OK, Mom,” he told her. It was a beautiful moment that I wanted to include in the narrative. When interviewing Bryce and Terry, I didn’t want to record what they told me so much as I wanted to relay what the mother-son pair said to each other.

Stories about kids can make for wonderful narratives, in part because kids have so much energy and interesting things to say. If you’re not getting anywhere with your interview, sit back and listen. Watch children interact with each other or with their families. What are they saying to each other when they’re not talking to “the lady from the paper”? Capture these conversations.

Click here to read the story I wrote about Bryce.

Last week, I wrote a story about young filmmakers who competed in Samsung Mobile’s Fresh Films competition.

And here is the latest story from the ballet beat.

Weigh in: Do you find that kids are open to sharing their stories, or have I just been lucky?

Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at

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