What is a child psychologist & How does it differ?
Child Psychology is a branch of psychology that targets the emotional, mental and social psyche of young people. Using Developmental Psychology schools of thought, children must go through milestones in their early years, in particular;
- Physical milestones (motor skills like crawling and drawing)
- Cognitive milestones (learning and problem solving)
- Socio-emotional milestones (social skills)
- and Communication milestones.
Psychologists in this field assess how a child meets these milestones, such as how they learn and interact with others. Both the environmental factors and social context play a part in the child’s development processes, such as how children learn to express their emotions and their own socialisation experiences. Behaviours become social cues for children as they grow, and certain behaviours become apparent at key milestone time periods, such as learning to express their thoughts when they first start to speak, and how they approach playing and making friends when they first start school. These childhood experiences form the foundations of one’s mental health, thus it is important to monitor children’s development.
What to look out for as a parent?
As a parent, you know your child best. If something changes in their demeanour or you start noticing excessive signs of stress, it is safer to look into the situation rather than just dismiss it. There are many signs that parents can look out for regarding their child’s mental wellbeing and health. This includes antisocial or socially withdrawn behaviour, where the child purposely distances themselves from other children and may experience high levels of anxiety when talking to others. There may also be periods of adjustment that children have to go through in their environment, such as the divorce of parents. There may be a normal reaction to these issues, however, if the adjustment period becomes too excessive and if negative emotional patterns are present and persistent, this could be a sign that the child needs some extra assistance in coping with their emotions.
Additionally, it is important to consider family history when considering your child’s psychology, as some disorders can be passed down generationally. Examples of disorders scientists believe to have genetic ties include autism, ADHD and depression. Hyperactivity in children may also be a sign of childhood psychological issues that many parents often dismiss, thus it is important to monitor sleeping habits as well as the attention span of young children. Finally, spend quality time with your child, listening and seeing their general reactions, whereby persistent negative remarks from children can also be a sign of distress.
Common Disorders in Children & Symptoms
There are certain disorders that are more prevalent in children, and parents should be aware of the symptoms. It is important to note that children under five are most likely only going to show symptoms of disorders, but not be specifically diagnosed until they are older. Common disorders and symptoms of each are as follows;
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – low concentration, cannot sit still, interrupts others talking
- Conduct Disorder – aggressive, deceitful, disobeys rules (behavioural problems)
- Anxiety Disorder – restlessness, panicking, trouble sleeping
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) – hostile, anger episodes
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – does not make eye contact, uses noises to get attention, does not pick up on others expressions
- Eating Disorders- unhealthy relationship with food, over or undereating
- Depression- long periods of sadness, irregular sleeping, mood swings, crying, self-esteem issues
- Learning Disorders – does not speak, repeats a few words, learning difficulties
What are the benefits of Child Psychology?
Child psychology offers a safe place for redirecting the emotions and mental processes of children. This area of study offers well-tested coping mechanisms to assist your child in moving forward in life, and overall working towards a more content, happy demeanour. A child psychologist can form a relationship with the child built on listening and open communication, whereby issues are worked on for a selected period of time. While the psychologist assists in the development of socio-emotional skills at an early age, these skills will be used for the rest of the child’s life. It is important to tackle any signs of disorders and distress as early as possible, to ensure they do not develop further. Through this health service, children can grow their ability to manage their emotions, cope with stress, and feel better overall.
Child Psychologists can help decipher what is a normal developmental stage, what behaviours need to be assisted, as well as the root causes of these issues. Building confidence in communication is another skill that can be carried throughout the child’s life. The controlled environment allows for clarity, and positive steps for treatment, which then can be applied in the real world. It is also extremely rewarding to see real developmental progression in children after their psychology sessions.