Using a Storybook Method to Understand Young Children's Narratives of Illness

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Massey University
Appreciation of the role that families play in young children’s meaning-making about the causes of illness could assist educators and healthcare practitioners to provide more effective support for young children and their families. To date, researchers have largely sought to determine children’s understanding at various stages of cognitive development rather than exploring how children might acquire, process, and share their knowledge within particular social contexts. Adopting a socio-constructivist perspective and a narrative methodology, I sought to identify ways in which young children’s illness causality concepts are embedded within the familial context. Fieldwork included in-depth interviews with five four-year-old children, their parents/guardians; sibling/s aged five to nine years, and two other family members. Participants from Manukau City, New Zealand, reflected a diversity of cultural communities, spiritual orientations, and family structure. To aid the elicitation of young children’s narratives of illness causality, child participants were invited to construct a storybook about ‘getting sick’ utilizing art materials and photographs of children experiencing illness. A social interactional approach was employed to interpret participants’ narratives and suggests that young children’s illness causality constructions are significantly influenced by the particular illness experiences, illness prevention messages and behavioural rules within families. Findings indicate that children’s existing understandings and associated family practices need to be utilized as the context for children’s learning about health and well-being.
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Behaviour, Children, Families, Illness causality, Sociocultural context