In the united States, 1 in six children between the age of 2 and 8 suffer from mental health issues. This is according to the data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. These mental health issues in children include depression, behavior disorder, and anxiety among others. In addition, up to 6.3 million children between 3 and 17 years have anxiety and depression diagnosis.
Furthermore, the pandemic of 2020 has made these mental health issues a lot worse. The social isolation and the closure of schools are the major components that affect the high school students. A nationwide survey reveals that more than 51% of children are uncertain of the future.
These figures point to an alarming need for children to have the right help. And child psychologists are the best solution as they have the expertise to deal with complex mental issues in children.
This post attempts to break down the intricacies of a child psychologsist. We also help you identify when and if your child needs to see a child psychologist.
What is a Child Psychologist?
A child psychologist is a specialist or an expert in the psychology of children. He or she study and assess the behavioral developments, learning patterns, and environmental factors that affect children and adolescents. Child psychologists also treat children who have learning abilities to those who have a serious mental illness.
In addition to conducting psychological tests, child psychologists assess their young clients. It is followed by arriving at the best diagnosis and treating the patient.
To become a fully qualified child psychologist, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology is a requisite. A one-year internship is also necessary to complete the doctorate degree. To get a license to practice as a child psychologist, they also undergo a one-year practice under an expert child psychologist’s supervision.
Child psychology is closely related to other specialty branches in clinical psychology. The closest one is pediatric psychology. Child psychologists can be a specialist in any of the three branches. These are developmental psychology, adolescent psychology, and abnormal psychology.
Why Should You Care?
It is the ultimate dream of every parent for his or her child to have a healthy development. However, many factors such as genetics, environmental and cultural factors play a significant role in the child’s overall development.
Child psychologists can be instrumental in helping children in their formative years. They can help your child in emotional, social, cognitive, as well as physical development. They can help you identify which behaviors are a normal part of the child’s development or a sign of some underlying problem.
A child psychologist also helps children understand their emotions and express them in a healthy way. Since emotional development influences social development significantly, understanding their emotions can help a child develop in a healthy way.
All of this can culminate into a child to become a responsible part of the community. They have a better understanding of trust, relationships, respect for authority, and conflict management as they develop stage by stage. A child psychologist also helps children develop social skills, awareness, and values that can be invaluable in relating to parents, peers, and even animals.
Most parents think of a child psychologist as a reactive last resort. However, child psychology should be a proactive plan for every family that cares about the welfare of their child’s overall development.
What Exactly does a Child Psychologist do?
From the outside, it may look like a child psychologist has a sit down with children that have behavioral problems. However, the responsibilities of a child psychologist are way more complex than we imagine.
Let’s Take a Look at What a Child Psychologist’s Job Looks Like
- Sitting down with children and their parents or family members for a conversation to establish rapport and trust with the child.
- Connecting with the child at his or her level to gain trust is the most important role for a child psychologist.
- Getting the child to be comfortable in a relaxed environment. Child psychologists use toys and props, role-playing, and drawing pictures.
- Conducting different psychological tests to diagnose the issue that is affecting the child’s wellbeing. Child psychologists conduct the most amounts of tests among all other mental health professionals.
- Intervening with a practical solution when a child faces behavioral and emotional problems that interfere with daily activities.
- Developing a customized treatment plan for every child after assessment. This treatment is also called therapy and aims to restore normalcy in a child’s life.
- In addition to developing the right therapy, determining the right approach to execute the therapy is equally important.
- Education the family members and about the child’s problem is an important responsibility of a child psychologist. This will help create a positive developmental environment for the child at all times. Furthermore, parental management and education can also play a significant role in preventing and exacerbating the child’s problem.
- Child psychologists also work with caregivers, teachers, and pediatricians to implement the child’s treatment plans.
- Teaching child psychology at a college or university is also part of the child psychologist’s job.
- Conducting researches on disorders and coming up with innovative treatment plans for a specific problem.
What is the Difference Between a Child Psychologist and a Child Therapist?
The terms child psychologist and child therapist are used interchangeably. Although there are similarities between the two health professionals, they have vast differences too.
A child psychologist is a specialist in a particular branch of psychology. He or she is a social scientist by definition and has the training to study mental processes and behavior in children.
On the other hand, a child therapist is part of an umbrella term that covers a wide range of mental health professionals. They can include social workers, psychoanalysts, psychologists, life coaches, marriage and family counselors.
For child psychologists, a doctoral degree in clinical psychology is a must. In addition, internship and training is a huge part of qualifying as a child psychologist. As part of their training, child psychologists often work as teachers and professors in universities and colleges.
A child psychologist can train in degrees of therapy or counseling or both. Child psychologists often have five to six years of studying and training. A child psychologist typically spends one year of internship under supervision.
On the contrary, a master’s degree is often enough to qualify as a child therapist. In addition, the master’s degree can be from different disciplines such as mental health counseling, social work, substance abuse, psychiatry, and family counseling.
Child therapists have about two to three years of studying in a specialized program after college. The internship for a therapist under supervision is typically two years.
Child psychologists involve in many kinds of research as part of their ongoing work. In addition, they also work simultaneously with a psychiatrist to prescribe medication if the treatment approach demands. Child psychologists may work in clinical or research settings.
A child psychologist can diagnose a mental problem or disorder in children. He or she also diagnoses the best treatment for the young patient.
On the other hand, child therapists rarely undertake researches or teach. Moreover, child therapists do not prescribe medications under any circumstances. They also typically work in an office setting.
A child therapist’s ultimate aim is to clarify their child’s feelings to make proper decisions and solve their problems.
How do I Know if My Child Needs a Psychologist?
One of the supreme responsibilities of parents is to be in tune with their child’s wellbeing. In the formative years, children undergo many different developments, including physical, mental, and emotional. However, most parents can usually pick up when their child has unusual behaviors.
It is a Good Time to See a Child Psychologist if :
- You observe or feel that your child has one of the following symptoms.
- Your child exhibits these behaviors for weeks or months, regularly or erratically
A Sign That Children Need a Child Psychologist
- Behavioral problems – In children, this can include anxiety and frustration that culminates in explosive and disruptive behaviors. Exhibiting violence or any type of dangerous behavior is also common after an episode of anger. In addition, children with behavioral problems also show out of control behavior both at home and in school.
- Emotional problems – If your child is irritable, sad, or unusually anxious, it is a sure sign that they need help. These periods of emotional issues usually last for long hours and can affect their normal routines. Depression and sadness that prevent a child from sleeping, concentrating on studies, and losing interest in normal activities is also a good indication that an intervention of a child psychologist is required.
- Physical issues – In some children, it can be as obvious as cutting oneself or other forms of physical harm. However, a case of an eating disorder can be hard to tell. Nevertheless, getting the help of a child psychologist can be detrimental to your child’s wellbeing.
- Trauma – Trauma for children can be in the form of physical and sexual abuse. In addition, grief such as the death of a parent or family member and physical separation from a closed one can also be traumatic for a child. Children recovering from trauma such as brain surgery, cancer treatment, and other medical issues also require a child psychologist’s help.
- Mental problems – Mental problems in children are depression, anxiety, Tourette Syndrome, ADHD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In some cases, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder may also be present.
- Learning difficulties or disabilities – Learning difficulties in children may not be very evident. However, the formative years are the easiest times to recognize learning difficulties in children. There are many learning difficulties, including dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, and executive functioning. Another uncommon learning difficulty is a specific oral or written language comprehension deficit, which impacts a child’s understanding.
- Family history – The genetic predisposition of mental health issues is a factor that not many people consider. However, if there is a history of mental health issues in the family, then a visit to a child psychologist is a good idea. This is irrespective of whether your child shows any problematic behavior or not. Child psychology, as a proactive measure, is better than a reactive one.
Watching and Waiting Before You Take Your Child to a Child Psychologist
Many parents are torn between when to take a child to a specialist or wait and watch. It can be quite a challenge to categorize which behavior is a phase and which is not. In addition, well-meaning friends’ and family members’ advice divided between seeking immediate help and waiting can add to the confusion.
If you are caught in this dilemma, here are some useful tips to guide you.
When to Wait and Watch Before Seeking a Child Psychologist
- Addition of a new family member such as a new sibling or blending a family
- Parents undergoing an amicable divorce
- Changing schools and ultimately, friends
- Shifting to a new home or place
Although these events can be hard for a child, it may not warrant a visit to a psychologist. However, waiting and monitoring a child’s behavior does not mean ignoring the problem.
These periods should be active watching where you monitor your child’s moods and behaviors. If the troublesome behaviors continue for weeks, then it is time to seek a child psychologist.
If you cannot decide yourself, your pediatrician or a GP can be of great help. Although you don’t need their referral, they can also help you decide whether your child needs to see a child psychologist or not.
If the data from the CDC is any indication, millions of children in the US need a child psychologist. Some of the mental health conditions can occur together, while others can be in isolation.
Recent studies also reveal that the demand for psychologists has exponentially increased in the aftermath of the Covid 19 pandemic. And this demand does not look like it will dissipate any time soon.
As parents and caretakers, it is only right that we keep watchful eyes on our children’s behaviors, especially in their growing years. And don’t hesitate to consult the services of a child psychologist if something about your child bothers you. It can mean all the difference.