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“Despite widespread use of ground rules, we know little about how well children of different ages understand them, what impact they have on children’s behaviour and how they should be taught. Our findings will help adults prepare children to answer questions about their experiences, and ensure we gain better information to use for decisions about children’s well-being” – Principal Investigator, Dr. Deirdre Brown.


How do children develop their ability to understand and answer questions?

From a young age, children learn they should answer adults’ questions. In some interactions, children’s answers critically affect decisions adults make. When children are questioned by doctors about their symptoms, by lawyers in family court about home life, or by social workers about possible maltreatment, their responses have serious implications. It is crucial that children do not answer questions when they are confused or uncertain. To help children recognise that adults have different expectations of them in such settings, interviewers often teach them “ground rules” – to say “I don’t know” when they don’t know the answer. But, we know little about how well children of different ages understand them or what impact they have on children’s behaviour.


Our Goal

The GRACI project explores how children’s understanding of ground rules changes with age, and test ways of teaching the rules that are informed by cognitive research.


Why?

Children are often asked to talk about their real-life experiences – in class, at home, at the doctor, or in legal settings. These situations can sometimes be difficult for children, and studies like this give us information about how to help children do their best in them. Our findings will help adults prepare children to answer questions about their experiences, and ensure we gain better information to use for decisions about children’s well-being.


Who takes part?

The GRACI project is a multi-study research program run in childcare centres and schools throughout the Wellington region, working with children aged 3-12-years.

What do our studies involve?

We use a range of activities to collect data that often take place within an interview setting, that include verbal and pointing tasks, storytelling, learning and memory activities and a computer-based picture game. We also deliver classroom-based demonstrations where children learn about health and safety.


Ethics

Studies in the GRACI project program have been approved by the School of Psychology Human Ethics Committee under delegated authority of Victoria University of Wellington’s Human Ethics Committee (application #0000026259).

This research is supported by the Marsden Fund Council from Government funding, administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

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