Careers in Child Psychology are Not All Child's Play

Learn how child psychology is really a hybrid of family, school and developmental psychology.

child blowing dandelions

By Jennifer Wegerer

Commonly understood as a distinct subfield within the psychology profession, child psychology more accurately represents a subset of family therapy, school psychology, developmental psychology and other fields of psychology that work with children as a part of their practice and incorporate child or adolescent psychology strategies into their treatment plans.

Child Psychology in Practice

Genetics and physical growth inherently play roles in a child's development. In addition to these factors, child psychology considers aspects that influence a child's mental, social and emotional development, such as the following:

  • Family and ethnic culture
  • Gender roles
  • Personality development
  • Sexual development
  • Socioeconomics

Of course, a child's experience also impacts growth. Circumstances like divorce, death of a close family member, relocating to a new home, switching schools and other family situations all have the potential to seriously affect a child's life.

Job Duties

As part of their job, child psychologists perform a variety of clinical, research and administrative tasks. Some common duties involved in child psychology practice include:

  • Meeting with children and their family members to observe and diagnose concerns about a child's mental or emotional state.
  • Collaborating with parents, teachers, pediatricians or other clinicians involved in a case to implement child psychology treatment plans.
  • Working with elementary educators and school administrators to evaluate and revise learning environments to suit children with special needs.
  • Teaching students at the college or university level.
  • Researching disorders common among children and adolescents, and devising new treatment strategies.
  • Performing tasks related to running an independent practice, such as bookkeeping, billing, and managing insurance issues.

Work Environment

Child psychology professionals work in a variety of settings, some of which include the following:

  • Colleges and universities
  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Health clinics
  • Outreach programs
  • Private practice

Depending on the setting, they might put in evening and weekend hours to accommodate the schedules of children and their parents. Some child psychologists supervise less senior psychology staff members or social workers; in universities, child psychology professors usually mentor graduate-level students training in a child psychology specialty.

Education & Training

Working as a child psychologist in independent practice or research typically requires a doctoral degree, either a PhD or PsyD. Along with a doctorate, child psychologists must pass a licensing exam in order to treat children. Child psychology professionals working in elementary and secondary schools may be subject to additional requirements, depending on the state. To maintain or renew licensure, practitioners usually need to complete a certain number of hours of continuing education over a specified time period.

Rewards of the Career

Clearly, child psychology offers significant challenges and inherently delivers immeasurable rewards. Providing children with the support and understanding they need in difficult times or in overcoming developmental issues can make a world of difference to their well-being as children and to their resilience and perspective as adults.