Writing Realistic Children

Kids. We use them in all types of roles for stories, whether it be for a second of comic relief or to evoke an 'aww!' from the readers. Whichever reason they're in your stories, however, they should all conform to some basic concepts, as described below.

Children Talking Like Children

This may be just me, but if I'm reading a story that has a kid who is speaking in a way that seems too advanced, I assume that I'm either reading a parody, the child speaking is a genius, or it's some half-human/half-vampire creature in a certain teen vampire romance novel. If it's none of the preceding, or not intentional, then you need to make sure the child speaking sounds like a child. Most kids don't usually have very advanced vocabularies or speak using very complex sentence structure. It's important that the child's way of speaking matches their age or level of education.

This means using a vocabulary that is specific to the child's age – not the same as you, the writer. You didn't sound the same when you were five or three, and neither should the children in your stories. When writing dialogue for your child characters, try to think of children you've encountered in real life or on television. Think about how they form sentences and the level of words they use. A little research, if you're unfamiliar with children, can go a very long way.

Children Being Knowledgable as Children

Similar to vocabulary and how your young character speaks, the age of your character should have some sort of effect on how much they know. Think of what you knew at that age (the age of your characters), especially when dealing with character's thoughts in narration and conclusions your young character may draw from the words and actions of others. While a three year old may notice that their parents are acting differently, a three year old may not be able to discern exactly why that is. On that same thread, try not to dumb down your character either. A ten year old may be more attuned to the actions of their parents than you might think. An eleven year old wouldn't be completely clueless about more “adult” topics like sex or even drugs. When deciding on what your young character should and shouldn't know, try to draw from real life and your past experience of a child that age. It'll help your story be much more realistic and believable.

Children Behaving Like Children

Once you've mastered dialogue, you have to attack mannerisms. There are, quite simply, things kids like and do not like doing. For example: children under five are very prone to tantrums. Consistently writing a child who is quiet, never complains, and always does what they are told, leads me to hope that you have some brilliant subplot about them being a robot or similar being. Otherwise, something is wrong. Kids will throw tantrums, they will protest against things they don't like, from complaints against different foods on their plate touching, to their gloves don't let them touch the snow, and everything in between.

Kids also play, even if it's not the forefront of the story or scene. If a child is in the room, it isn't likely that they are just standing in the background quietly. They play with toys or friends, they play pretend, they make noise, they knock into things or knock things over, they scream and they sometimes cry. The presence of a child can rarely go unnoticed, especially by a parent. Even when a child may not be the point of focus, if you make them present in the scene, be sure to acknowledge them more than once with a mention (even if it is a small one).

The final check in the behavior of children is physical action. In a normal situation, children do not outrun cars. They don't cook three course meals on their own. They don't jump off buildings and turn out okay or lift things twice their weight. Unless your child is a superhero, in which case you can feel free to make them jump off as many buildings as your heart desires.

When a child in a story uses advanced vocabulary, when they're perfectly behaved, when they jump off buildings and land unscathed, the reader will take it as a sign that the kid is not normal. They'll read the rest of your story through that lens, constantly expecting the big secret to be revealed, and probably grow hopelessly confused. And, because they're so very confused, they'll miss the actual point and plot of your story, which leaves you, the writer, at a disadvantage. It is to your benefit to make children as realistic as possible. And if you're ever stuck, just get up from your computer and look around. Children are everywhere, I promise.

*For more articles like this, check out Mibba Magazine.

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