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What does a Child Psychologist do?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Child psychologists have a special interest in working with children and have earned a graduate degree in psychology. In most places, there is no clear distinction between a psychologist generally and one who focuses on young people because, in the US, there is no specialized degree in this field. Professionals who wish to work with children will often focus their studies on the psychological development of kids and related issues, and in most cases, these specialists will have completed doctoral research or a thesis on a similar topic.

Counseling and Treatment

The most common job for a child psychologist is as a counselor, in a clinical setting, diagnosing and treating patients. When working as a counselor, he or she will usually alter traditional therapy approaches so they are more appropriate for children. This means that the psychologist may use play, art, or music, especially when working with young children, who typically lack the ability to analyze their problems in the same way that adults do. With older children, a counselor may use a number of other methods, many of which are also used in therapy geared towards adults, including talk therapy and role-playing.

Clinical psychologists assess children and use a range of treatments, including therapy, to treat them. They may use diagnostic tests to determine if a young patient has a condition like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or a learning disability. Many study how a child's behavior affects his or her physical health, and help the patient and his or her family learn to live healthier lives. Others work with patients who have brain injuries or other physical problems related to the brain that may affect their behavior.

It's important to note that, in most cases, a psychologist cannot prescribe medication. Typically, only psychiatrists, who are medical doctors, can write prescriptions. A psychologist may, however, help a child and the child's family cope with medications he or she is taking. If a counselor believes that a child would benefit from a prescription, he or she may refer the patient to a pediatrician or psychiatrist who can evaluate the child and determine whether or not medication is an appropriate treatment.


It is also common for people in this field to work as researchers, often in areas centered on learning theory and cognitive development. A developmental psychologist may be part of a research team that examines learning disabilities, for example, and comes up with new tests to evaluate child development. A health psychologist may research topics like teen pregnancy or drug and alcohol abuse and work on programs that aim to reduce these problems.

Social Work

Some child psychologists act as social workers and work with children and families that need immediate assistance. They may help ease the transition of a family that has been apart for a while, or they may help neglectful or abusive parents learn new skills. This way, children can often be returned to a safe home environment. Others may assist families in finding and qualifying for assistance to help make sure the children get enough to eat, are well clothed, and are attending school. In some cases, a psychologist who works as a social worker may take on some counseling duties as he or she helps a child handle a difficult family situation.

In the Legal System

Government agencies may employ some child psychologists to evaluate children who have been victims of crimes or who have committed crimes. In this capacity, they may give testimony as to the impact that a crime may have had on a child. A forensic child psychologist may work with a child who has been a witness to a crime, helping him or her remember what happened accurately. Others may help the court understand the reasons behind certain behaviors if a child is on trial for a crime.

School Psychologists

Child psychologists often work in schools to help children struggling with family or educational issues. They can work as advisers to school districts, where they may help form special education programs or develop individualized education programs (IEPs) for students with disabilities. Someone in this job must also be aware of how changes in a child's behavior can indicate a more serious problem, such as abuse in the home or bullying. He or she may work directly with teachers or the school administration to address student behavior generally, teaching methods, and other concerns.

Writing and Teaching

Many professionals turn to a career in writing after spending many years as therapists or researchers. A well-written explanation of a certain aspect of child development, or of a specific mental disorder that affects children, can be an important guide for parents and other professionals. Some experts may write books for children that can help them get through difficult periods in their lives. If such books are well received, the child psychologist may be asked to speak to schools, parent groups, or the media as an expert in the field. Others go into teaching, usually at the college level, helping to train potential new psychologists.

Becoming a Child Psychologist

It usually takes many years of study at the university level to become a psychologist, and most stay in school to earn a doctoral degree. A master's may be all that is required for some jobs, but most employers usually prefer a PhD. After the degree has been granted, a psychologist must still complete many hours of supervised training before being licensed by a state, province, or country. Anyone who is licensed can work with children or adults, and many work with both. An expert who focuses on children usually does not need any specific additional training, simply the desire to work with young people.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By johntn — On Apr 15, 2014

@anon160328 Post No. 38: Gathering from you what present, your child likely has an eating disorder and anxiety issues, in which case, he will not simply " grow out of it ' without professional intervention. I would strongly encourage you to seek a second opinion from a mental health agency or professional specialized in child and adolescent behavioral issues.

By johntn — On Apr 15, 2014

@anon15437 Post no. 5: This a clear indicator your child is suffering from severe depression and warrants seeing a mental health professional. There is a difference between defiance and depression. What you present is depression. Get him help at your earliest opportunity.

By johntn — On Apr 15, 2014

@anon33145 Re: Post no. 12: I would say this: Children, as they near and go through adolescence, have a natural instinct to explore and learn about their bodies and it is common for them to have experiences with male counterparts of their same age. It's human nature. It doesn't mean the child is homosexual, lesbian or a sexual deviant. It's about self-identity and understanding what they are feeling and experiencing as they grow.

If the behavior continues over a long period of time and turns into something more, you would have reason to be concerned and should, by all means, seek the advice and intervention of a health professional who will determine if the services of a child psychologist would be appropriate.

By johntn — On Apr 15, 2014

@anon36345 RE; Post no. 14: Absolutely, they can. A child psychologist is well-trained in these matters and can employ techniques to unearth any abuse going on, such as play therapy and other modes of assessment and treatment.

You can also educate yourself about the signs of sexual abuse. Here are a few examples :

a) Rapid and nervous movement of the fingers is a clear indicator of a perp !

b) Reluctance, resistance or nervousness by a child around a specific person is a strong (but not always a definite indicator) that something is very wrong and this child fears this person.

c) Bed wetting (beyond the appropriate age) is almost always as indicator of trauma, emotional and or physical.

You can look online and learn about these symptoms and more. I hope this helps.

By johntn — On Apr 15, 2014

@TNANGEL199: First, let me assure you, you have not allowed this to happen. You could not foresee this beforehand. Really, don't blame yourself. It is counter-productive to helping your child through this traumatic event. Your focus needs to be on him and what he is needing.

As for Glenn, while he has no obligation to you or your son, he is certainly lacking empathy and being selfish, which diminishes his credibility and would be someone I would not want around my child. "Show me a hero, I'll show you a tragedy ".

As for helping your son overcome the blow dealt to him and move past this, you will need to "get real" with him, in that you need to explain to him that people are in different places in their lives, and some, for a time or for longer, come into our lives for one reason or another i.e. maybe they needed something at that time - a friend, support, etc., maybe they felt the were in-love. These are life experiences you will face many times in your life; friends moving away, leaving home for college, leaving a job for another.

The important thing is to learn from each experience and take that knowledge to get you through the next one. What we can learn from Glen is what ? (discuss). On that, I would offer that Glenn was selfish, looking to satisfy his own needs and when he didn't find what he wanted, he jumped ship. And ask your son (give him the control), "is that someone you would want in your life" ? Get the light to go on and your son will be able to make sense of it and be able to move on.

I pray this helps you and your son better understand and cope with the pain, and that the both of you will be wiser and stronger for it.

By anon301549 — On Nov 05, 2012

My child has a fear of using the toilet. This has been a major issue since school started. She is just too scared. She will hold it in all day until I am able to take her. What kind of help can I get for her? She is six.

By anon263552 — On Apr 24, 2012

I have been seeing a child psychologist since I was seven years old. Now I'm 14 years of age and still see a psychologist. I just want to thank my psychologist for helping me cope with my difficult situations in life.

By anon238409 — On Jan 03, 2012

Just an observation; you use "her" when describing a child psychologist. For example, "Once a child psychologist has completed her doctorate degree, she must.." I suppose it's not offensive, but it does imply you believe girls are most likely to be child psychologists than women. Like I said, just an observation.

Anyway, I have always loved children, And I knew that I wanted to work in an area that involves children. I believe that the child psychology field is exactly for me.

By Mullings — On May 30, 2011

Hello #35- It is a very sad thing when a child loses a father or a father figure. A father plays a very important role in the family. In many homes, the father is not present. But how can single mothers cope with such a thing?

I know mothers out there who had to take up that responsibility, for the sake of their children. My dearest, your son can still get that attention that he got from this gentleman. Continue to be a good mother and try to be good father.

I know at times it's going to be hard but give that child something to always remember.

By Mullings — On May 24, 2011

#31: Which one do you love most? If you love working with people, then i guess flight attendant would be a better option. I am going to do psychology and i believe it's a great career. But on the other hand, psychology is all about solving problems and you stated you like to be around people and meet new faces. That would fit a flight attendant more.

By anon177993 — On May 19, 2011

My son is three and a half and he will not eat, we went to the doctor today and he has not gained any weight in eight months. he has had a lot of things happen to him this year such as my father getting arrested for sexual things involving a minor and the only father figure he ever knew leaving him and me having a baby and moving and so on.

i am wondering if he is too young to see a child psychologist? I'm very concerned that all the stuff that has happened to him this year has emotionally ruined him. Some advice please? thanks.

By anon176418 — On May 15, 2011

i was wondering. i want to see a child psychologist. I've been having a really hard time since i was born, with things such as family conflicts, deaths, family illnesses, some things as a child i wish i could forget but I'm scared with it and cannot move on. And in school really bad relationships and more. my father is willing to find me a psychologist after i talked to him about it. i wanted to know what they would do? or if you think they can help?

By anon167173 — On Apr 11, 2011

-#35 I just want to say you can give him closure by letting him hang out with other men, like cousins or uncles so he want feel so alone he can have some company.

By anon160328 — On Mar 15, 2011

My 13 year old son lives on cereals and breads. He will eat some biscuits, fruit and crisps. he has always been the same, and now it is affecting him. he sometimes turns down invitations because of having to go through the eating thing, i.e., explaining that he doesn't eat much. He finds it difficult to sleep too. the doctors have said he is fussy and will grow out of it. I don't agree, would a psychologist be able to help?

By anon155790 — On Feb 24, 2011

for no 20: why not stop spoiling the child and put crayons and pens up? as for bullying other children, try discipline and tell him it is wrong.

By anon150826 — On Feb 09, 2011

I have a three year old daughter, she recently joined school, but she hates going to school. She cries every morning as I prepare to go to school and when she goes to school, she doesn't take her meals. Please help.

By tnangel99 — On Jan 10, 2011

Please help me help my son. I am a single mom to a 4 1/2 year old. Last year after Christmas, until January, I dated a man (Glen) whom my son fell in love with.

Glen spent just about every single day with us, usually at minimum was six hours a day and on days we did not work, all day. My son has never had a "daddy" and Glen always did things with him and my son asked Glen to be his "daddy". Well, Glen left us at the end of January because he stated he didn't realize the impact that he was having on this little boy and that he wasn't ready for all this.

Well, my son, even after almost a year, is still grieving for Glen. He prays for him every night. He begs for God to bring Glen back to us. I have told him that Glen is not coming back but he refuses to believe that. He wants me to take him to his house so he can see him. I told him that I have called Glen and sent him emails and texts but he just won't answer.

I have requested Glen to please give my son closure, to tell him good-bye; however, I have had no response from him. I am at a complete loss as to what to do to help my son. Is my son going to suffer any long term emotional problems from this? By the way, my son has a very good memory, he is only 4 1/2 and remembers back to the age of almost 2.

Please help me. I love my son dearly and I hate what I have allowed to happen to him.

By anon126682 — On Nov 13, 2010

Being a single mom of two children is tough but it is even tougher when my 8 year old son refuses to take care of his everyday needs on his own. I have even posted a list including shower, brush teeth, and get dressed, but had no success. Any advice is welcome.

By anon101535 — On Aug 03, 2010

I cannot decide whether to be a child psychologist, or a flight attendant. Either would be really interesting. I really want a career that involves people, because I love being around people, and meeting new people. I have three years left until I start college. Please help!

By anon94101 — On Jul 07, 2010

I am looking to enroll in a psychology course with an interest in working with children. What degree courses would you advise to start with. Please can you advise?

Many thanks.

By anon88348 — On Jun 04, 2010

okay so I'm about to be a senior next year and i wanted to major in psychology and also minor in social work so just by reading this article i have made up my mind completely, the only tricky thing is finding a great college that has both social work and psychology.

By anon81956 — On May 04, 2010

I don't know whether to be a child psychologist or a pharmacist. i have no idea. i need to decide soon. i only have three years left until college.

By anon79041 — On Apr 21, 2010

In response to Anon 72473 and 55063: A child psychologist/psychiatrist deals with emotional issues and implementing rules of sociology, whereas a lawyer abides strictly to laws or absence of clauses in laws - even if these are against your own morality - capital punishment, life sentence, acquitting guilty people or vice-versa.

By anon72473 — On Mar 23, 2010

I am also trying to decide whether I want to be a lawyer or child psychiatrist. I love working with children but I also love defending people. Could someone respond to this comment and help me out.

By anon66588 — On Feb 20, 2010

my daughter screams at my seven year old grandson when he doesn't listen to her. the more she yells the more defiant he gets. he then ends up hitting, kicking or throwing things at her. she won't listen to any advice. I am worried about my grandson. My granddaughter, five, stays in her room.

By anon60106 — On Jan 12, 2010

Actually, for school, from what I know, your child may have a phobia about his studies or have a problem fitting in at school. You should try to find out if it's the first or latter or both.

When I say a phobia about studies, it could be repeated failure in his subjects and thus a failure. Students who display laziness in studies could have a problem cramming in front of books; it could be that. After all, studying is all about reading isn't it. When you watch TV or play video gamers, you're a do-er. You like doing things with visuals and it's more exciting. Visuals are very thrilling, which is why a lot of children like TV and video games.

About problems fitting in at school, it could be a teacher problem, bullying or ostracism.

By anon55063 — On Dec 04, 2009

I'm trying to decide if i want to be a lawyer or a child psychologist! This article hasn't really given me any help at all! I've been reading the comments and it seems that a psychologist has a very big responsibility, as well what job seems to better. Could someone write a comment on this page within the next 24 hours so i can see what everyone thinks!

By anon53344 — On Nov 20, 2009

Am I the only one here who actually wants to be a child psychologist, and posting a comment? I'm 11, and to the people who are having problems with their 11-year-old children, it's difficult.

Some behavior is just puberty but sometimes I can't control myself. I have problems, and that's why I want to help other children when I'm older so they don't have to suffer as much as I do. Because I don't get help, and it's hard to control.

The best thing, is to ask your children. I'm dying to tell my mum, but I just wished she asked and understood.

By anon49371 — On Oct 20, 2009

I have a four year old boy who is very destructive by nature. He will buy new toys every day and will break them immediately. Keeps on coloring the TVs and walls. he loves beating children and fighting with them. Also he has a problem with stammering. are these things interrelated, and how can i stop him from being destructive? can anybody help?

By anon49305 — On Oct 19, 2009

I know a child psychologists who is busy with two families and they are not supposed to be that way at all. she made friends with one of the families and that's not fair.

By anon42399 — On Aug 20, 2009

i am the mother of a 3 year old daughter and i need to talk to psychologist about her. Marissa met her friends who have autism by giving gifts and letters but my mother was confusing me about meeting through me or giving gifts and letters. and i'll talk to the psychologist for Marissa.

By anon41789 — On Aug 17, 2009

my son hates to go to school. he feels nauseated. he is nine years old. what to do?

By anon41433 — On Aug 14, 2009

is the movie "17 again" appropriate for girls 6 and 10 years old?

By anon41418 — On Aug 14, 2009

love this article! I wonder if I can be of any help-offer suggestions etc-- I am a Parent Coach Super Nanny)I had some different opinions on some of these remarks.

anon 15437- I have answers for you! but what are the 3 things he does? NannyBarb

By anon36345 — On Jul 11, 2009

I am the father of my 3 year old daughter. My daughter lives with my ex wife, who has serious mental issues stemming from a lifetime of anorexia. I have concerns that my daughter is being physically, mentally and sexually abused by the ex's partner, 15 year old daughter & 14 year old son (different father). Department of child safety and the Police has investigated very poorly and say that they do not have enought proof to act.

Will a Child Psychologist be able to do an assessment and be able to find out if there is abuse?

By kel78 — On Jun 07, 2009

i have a 5yr old girl who will not go with any 1 only me. she won't go see her dad as she screams and cries for me. my sister took her in her car yesterday because i was going out and she even tried to open the car door and jump out while the car was moving. what kind of help, if any, is there i could get for myself and my daughter? thanx

By anon33145 — On Jun 01, 2009

What professional can I consult about cousins under 10 years of age involved in behavior of a sexual nature, such as kissing and showing of their private parts?

By Shanthisree — On Apr 17, 2009

I am the parent of a 11 year old girl. She seems to take whirlwind fancies on a lot of things, makes me spend a lot of money on these and loses interest equally quickly. I am unable to make her sit and concentrate on anything consistently. When in a good mood she says a lot of sweet things, commits to work, is consistent on studies and table tennis or any other interest she wants to pursue. But the next day when requested she becomes irate. She is also having snappy mood swings. Please advise how to tackle these mood swings and her ways.

By kagduki — On Mar 19, 2009

i am a mother of an 11 year old girl who is very much troubled with the attitude she is showing me with regards to her studies. i decided to quit my job as a teacher to focus on her, but unfortunately, i failed and still failing on how i would motivate her. since preschool she has shown laziness towards her studies, but as far as extra-curricular activities like dancing and other stuff, you could see how lively she is and how much she is enjoying.

she has the attitude of hiding her failing grades in her tests or exams from us with the reason that we will get mad at her, this attitude has been going on for years now and i can't find the reason why she is doing this. she is so lazy to study though the support and motivation from the family is unquestionable. we even hired a private tutor to help and guide her but still, we are failing.

i am in the process of seeking the advise of a child psychologist for that matter. please help us, i am craving advice. thanks in advance. god bless you all..

By marathonrunner — On Jul 15, 2008

marathonrunner here again...i hate to say it, but you may have to start taking away reading privileges. i was an avid reader as a child, and my parents would not let me do any leisure reading until i finished my chores and homework. while reading should be a top priority, he needs to understand that he has to fulfill his "responsibilities" too.

as for the night time wakings, i would try getting him to sleep a little earlier, and every time he wakes up, walk him back to his room. don't say a word, just escort him back and return to your room.

i wish i could offer more advice! being a parent is so hard sometimes, isn't it?! all you want is to do the best by your children, but we don't always know how to do it. i would definitely consult your pediatrician on your options for your son. he may need some extra help, or you may get some ideas about how to deal with his problems. good luck, it sounds like you are on the right track!

By anon15476 — On Jul 12, 2008

I thank marathonrunner for giving such a prompt reply. The thing is that we have already removed the TV from the equation by not having one in our house anymore. In order to make him respond to our requests we have hidden his Nintendo for up to 3 straight weeks, with no results. He starts reading books and that is one thing I don't want to take away. It seems that he just doesn't care for anything at all.

We tell him do his home work and then you can play your nintendo, and all he says is he doesn't want play with it in that case.

Sleep could be an issue as he does get up a number of times at night and is quite restless at night. Also refuses to sleep in his own bed and wants to sleep with us.

Any suggestions on how to get him to sleep in his own bed and through the night?? JB

By marathonrunner — On Jul 11, 2008

anon15437: my sympathies go out to you. as a mom of 3, i understand that it can be difficult to get your kids to listen to you! i've found that once you figure out what your child values, you can use them as "bargaining chips" to help them learn that when they are disobedient, they'll lose these privileges. you said that he loves to read, play nintendo, and watch tv. while i would NEVER take away books, i would immediately take away his nintendo and tv until he can start doing the things that are expected of him.

unless he does have some psychological issues that need to be addressed by a child psychologist, this should start netting results quickly. my 5 year old son knows that he can't even touch his nintendo until he's eaten breakfast and gotten himself dressed. my 3 year old daughter loves to wear dresses. we've had some difficulties with potty training, and i've found that if i take the dresses away, she does a ton better. children are so incentive and reward driven that they usually respond when this system is put in place.

find ways to make his usual routine fun, or different. some parents have found that checklists which outline each individual step of the routine (eg, pick out clothes, get dressed, put pajamas in dirty laundry, eat breakfast, brush teeth, etc.) with pictures or photos allows children to more easily "digest" each step, and aren't overwhelmed with the morning routine as a whole.

one other suggestion if have is to make sure he's getting enough sleep, or consider moving his bedtime to an earlier time. i've heard that helps with a whole plethora of behavioral issues in children. i hope these suggestions can be of help to you! good luck!

By anon15437 — On Jul 11, 2008

I have an 8 year old boy, who refuses to do anything on his own, which includes almost everything he has to do in a day. This has ended up getting us very frustrated with him. Our whole day is a big chore in waking him up, sending him to school, doing homework, dinner, bath. Just about everything is a big task with him as he will not do it himself or even after being told 50 times.

He is a very bright child who loves to read, watch TV and play on his Nintendo. These are the only 3 things that he will do without being asked to do.

How can we solve this behavior issue. Who do we take him to ? Does he need medical attention or counseling.....I need some help here. JB

By anon15161 — On Jul 03, 2008

Would you suggest child psychology for a person who is really good with children and likes to help children out?

By WGwriter — On Mar 28, 2008

Yes, I think it is much more difficult to deal with your own child. As a psychologist or a teacher, you are less emotionally involved in the outcome. That doesn't mean a psychologist or teacher isn't fond of their patients/students, but it does mean that ultimately the well-being of that child rests pretty solely on the parents or caregivers.

Example: I'm a good teacher, and work extremely well with kids with learning disabilities. Enter my own children, one of whom has several learning disabilities. It is much, much harder for me to teach my own son than it was to teach others. I even tried homeschooling for a year when I was living in a school district that wasn't supporting my son's disabilities in a manner I felt appropriate. It was a daily struggle, so challenging, and we both ended up hating the situation. He and I were both glad when the year was up and he returned to school in a more supportive school district.

There's an old saying that "doctor's wives die and shoemaker's children go barefoot." I think it's an exaggeration, but I do think that even if you do something professionally, it doesn't necessarily make you good at doing it on the homefront. And kids are wonderful, joyous and tough people to raise, no matter what your expertise and no matter how many degrees you hold.

By osmosis — On Mar 27, 2008

I have known a lot of child psychologists - even very good ones - who had significant problems with their own children. Is it a lot harder to deal with your own child than with somebody else's?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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