What is a Child Behavioural Psychologist?
Child psychology differs from mainstream psychology because it accounts for the mental development of children at each age. Child behavioural psychologists are essential because children with emotional, mental and/or behavioural disorders usually require different treatment from adults.
Child behavioural psychologists can treat an array of mental health problems ranging from anger management issues to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They can offer therapy to children and their families.
Factors to Consider Before Sending Your Child to a Behavioural Psychologist
Young people face many ups and downs, and occasional expressions of anger, sadness and frustration are to be expected. As a parent, you should be aware of the difference between regular outbursts and genuine behavioural problems. A quick way to examine your child is to consider the following factors:
- Environment: It is important to consider the context of your child’s outbursts – i.e. is their behaviour out of place given the circumstance? If your child is experiencing a difficult time at home and/or at school or experiencing a significant life change (e.g. moving houses), emotional distress may result.
- Age: It is typical for children to experience behavioural issues at certain ages – we’ve all heard tales of the “terrible twos” tantrums and the rebellious teenager!
- Developmental level: Children are unique and develop according to their personalities and individual characteristics. While they should be somewhat on par with their peers, some variation is typical.
These considerations are a good starting point when evaluating if a behavioural psychologist is the right fit for your child.
If your child’s behaviour appears to be typical when considering these factors, they may still benefit from seeing a child psychologist to resolve a specific issue. The psychologist will then be able to make further recommendations.
If your child’s behaviour is still concerning you after this initial assessment, they may be experiencing a more serious problem and require behavioural therapy. Warning signs may include the following:
- Persistent biting, hitting and/or kicking
- Head banging
- Mood swings
- Engaging in fights
- Learning difficulties
- Damaging property
- Engaging in early sexual activity
- Not sleeping properly
- Not eating properly
- Disrespectful to teachers, parents, sports’ coaches, etc.
- Using alcohol and/or drugs
- Engaging in theft
If Your Child Is Exhibiting Warning Signs, Consider a Child Psychologist
It is important to note that immediate help is recommended if your child has attempted suicide or self-harm, or hurt/threatened to hurt others. In this case, your first point of contact should be a mental health crisis centre or emergency services, depending on the situation. It is likely that a referral to psychology services will result from any such emergency situation.
24/7 Crisis Lines:
- Emergency 000
- Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36
- Lifeline 131 114
- Kids Helpline (for young people ages 5 to 25) 1800 551 800
- NSW Mental Health Line 1800 011 511
- Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
If your child is exhibiting one or more warning signs, and are not at risk of an emergency situation, a clinical psychologist could be a good first step. A clinical psychologist can assess your child and provide a diagnosis. Please note: diagnosis usually requires multiple sessions.
Common disorders associated with the warning signs listed above are:
- Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Autism Spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Learning disorders
- Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- Conduct disorder (CD)
What Can a Child Behavioural Psychologist Do For Your Child?
As mentioned, behavioural psychologists can help your child with a range of issues. Here are some common examples:
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder:
Behaviour therapy has proven to be effective in helping children with ADHD improve their self-esteem, self-control and overall behaviour. It is most effective in young children, when put into practice by parents.
Behavioural psychologists can help parents/caregivers in this position by providing them with the tools they need to help their individual child.
Paediatricians in Australia recommend that this treatment is effective for children under 12. However, if your child in under the age of 6, behavioural treatment should be the first line of treatment, before they are prescribed ADHD medication.
If your child has been diagnosed with autism, you may have heard of applied behaviour analysis (ABA).
It is commonly used to help autistic children improve self-care skills, play skills, social skills and communication skills. It is also used to reduce the severity of behavioural difficulties such as aggression and inattention.
A child behavioural psychologist can implement an ABA based program by:
- Assessing your child’s skills and challenges (e.g. your child may struggle to form positive relationships with their peers)
- Setting goals for your child
- Design and implement a plan to teach a specific skill
A behavioural psychologist will also assess the success of the program and make changes if necessary.
If you are are a parent or caregiver struggling to manage your child’s challenging behaviours, a child psychologist could help. Psychologists at our practice are well equipped to assess and help your child by taking into account their individual needs. They can use behavioural therapy can help address your child’s most difficult behaviours and in some cases resolve them altogether. If your child is currently experiencing a difficult time, consider behavioural psychology as it could help to provide your child with the tools they need to reach their full potential.