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.


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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 This includes antisocial or socially withdrawn behaviour, where the child purposely distances themselves from other children and may experience high levels of anxiety when talking to others.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

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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.

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Frequently Asked Questions

A child psychologist have experience and training in assessing and treating children and adolescence. They help children cope with stressor and anxieties such as school bullying, family conflicts, divorce and transition difficulties.

They also help diagnose and provide treatment for children presenting with a wide range of issues including attention deficit disorder, autism, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, and adjustment disorder.

You don’t need a referral to see a child psychologist, however if your child has a diagnosable mental health condition, they may be eligible to get a Medicare rebate with a GP mental Health Care Plan.

A child may need to see a psychologist if they have trouble with performances at school, anxiety issues, anger problems, sleeping problems, social problems or behavioural issues at home.

Parents may also be concerned if their child has drastic changes in their behaviours or they suddenly stop communicating with you.

It is important to choose a psychologist who is experienced and trained in understanding children and developmental psychology and are experienced in working with kids and their families.

At New Vision Psychology our child psychologists have the knowledge and experience required to connect with kids and adolescents. Our aim is to engage children in participating proactively in sessions which is aimed at increase positive outcomes. We also believe in working collaboratively with parents and caretakers. We provide feedback about your child’s therapy and consult parents on treatment plans for the best outcome.

Case Studies

Carrie’s son Robert is nine years old and goes to mainstream schools. Carrie has always been worried about Robert’s level of development compared to other children, however until now, she has never had this assessed.

Carrie is worried about Robert’s level of opposition, difficulty with following instructions, and him lagging behind in his school work. Carrie says that Robert has an older brother, and she does not remember him having any of these difficulties. Carrie also mentioned that Robert’s school does not seem to be concerned with how he behaves, or that he is behind in his classes (but Carrie is not very confident that the school is monitoring his development properly).  

Carrie attended the first appointment with the psychologist alone, without Robert. The discussion and questioning with Carrie, the psychologist assessed a range of developmental milestones that should be achieved by the age of nine.

From the assessment, the psychologist agreed that Robert’s level of opposition, and his reactions to when he is asked to follow instructions, appears to be indicative of behavioural issues.

The psychologist has requested to speak to Robert’s school to assist with understanding the degree of behavioural issues. The psychologist will contact the school prior to meeting with Carrie and Robert for the next appointment.

The plan moving forward is for the psychologist to work collaboratively with Carrie, Robert and his school to come with a behavioural support plan to manage problem behaviours. This will likely include helping Robert manage his emotions, and to learn healthier ways to communicate his needs such that he does not have to be reactive.