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So, What Actually is Child Psychology?

By Emily Habelrih

By now, many people are familiar with the role of a psychologist. However, a lot of people still struggle with the notion of a child requiring a psychologist. This article is aimed at helping you understand what a child psychologist does.

Child psychology is not all drawings and feelings talk! It’s about fostering development, navigating social issues, and assessing potential concerns. It has its ups and downs, good days and bad days, days when you want to sink into a chair due to mental exhaustion, days where you want to bathe in Detol because every child has come in with a new, rare, antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria, days where you realise how good your reflexes actually are because you have dodged air-borne lego pieces for 50 minutes, days where you laugh, days where you cry tears of stress, days where you cry tears of pride, days you feel like you have the weight of a child’s entire world on your shoulders, days where you feel like you are getting no where, days where you feel like you are genuinely making a difference, days where you feel as though you would have more luck getting through to Santa Clause.

Child psychology is most definitely not for the faint hearted! A child psychologist is a type of psychologist who studies the mental, social and emotional development of children. Child psychologists typically evaluate a child’s development from prenatal experiences, through the adolescence. Child psychologists may work with children across a range of ages, from infants through to teenagers. The main focus of a child psychologist it to understand, prevent, diagnose, and treat developmental, social, and emotional concerns.

Although approaches may vary, a child psychologist’s tasks may include:

- Diagnosing and treating learning/developmental disabilities

- Working with children and families to manage behavioural issues

- Administering psychological assessments to better understand behavioural concerns, mood disorders, or anxiety-related symptoms

- Working with an integrated healthcare team to create a unique treatment plan for a child

Prior to beginning, therapy, child psychologists often conduct assessments to help gain a better understanding of the child. This will likely include an interview with a parent/caregiver, and some additional questionnaires. If further assessment is necessary, the psychologist will discuss this with you. Child psychologists work closely with both the child and the family, to ensure that any progress achieved in therapy, can be generalised outside of the therapy setting.

How can a Psychologist Help Your Child?

Child psychologists can provide both assessment and therapy for learning difficulties, behavioural concerns, mood disorders, anxiety-related disorders, developmental disorders, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, child psychologists can also provide support and assistance to children and families who may not have a specific diagnosis. The first step to helping your child with any concerns you may have, would be to book an initial appointment.

When you make an appointment with a psychologist , you can typically expect the following:

- The first appointment is usually with the parent/s or carer/s, without your child present. This is so that your psychologist can collect background information about your child and so that you can cover all your concerns in detail.

- In the first appointment, your Psychologist will ask detailed information about your child’s family history, health, development and education, and about the current concerns you have. This may include questions about stressors that may be affecting the family. You do not have to answer any questions that you do not wish to and you can always ask the Psychologist why they are asking if you are unsure about a question.

- Assessment may include observations of your child, meeting your child and asking them questions, consulting with your child’s school and/or completing questionnaires about your child.

- Therapy is different for every child, but it may include direct work with your child and also strategies for you to put in place at home to assist your child’s behaviour, emotional wellbeing and development.

- Psychology is not a ‘quick fix’ and requires hard work and commitment from families. Improvements may be gradual and occur over a period of weeks or even months.

- You and your child will likely receive tasks to complete between sessions – completing these activities is a very important part of the gains your child will make in therapy.

- Most importantly, if you are unsure about anything or have any concerns, please ask!

A child psychologist is here to help you and your child get through a tricky time. Seeing a psychologist does not mean you have 'failed' as a parent, it means you are intuitive enough to understand that you and your child need support.

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