Child psychology is a branch of psychology and is the study of psychological processes of children . This particular branch focuses on the mind and behavior of children from prenatal development through adolescence. Child psychology deals not only with how children grow physically, but with their mental, emotional, and social development as well.

The topic is sometimes grouped with infancy, adulthood, and aging under the category of developmental psychology.


Centuries ago, child psychology was a completely unknown concept. In ancient times, for instance, children were viewed as nothing more than small versions of adults.Jean Piaget suggested that children actually think differently than adults, meanwhile Albert Einstein proclaimed that the discovery was "so simple that only a genius could have thought of it." Today we know that childhood is a very influential time in a person’s life.

As a scientific discipline with a firm empirical basis, child psychology was initiated in 1840, when Charles Darwin began a record of the growth and development of one of his own children, collecting the data much as if he had been studying an unknown species. A similar, more elaborate study published by German psychophysiologist William Preyer put forth the methods for a series of others. In 1891 American educational psychologist G. Stanley Hall established the Pedagogical Seminary, a periodical devoted to child psychology and pedagogy. A number of psychologists such as Sigmund Freud, Melani Klein , and Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud dealt with child development chiefly from the psychoanalytic point of view. Jean Piaget of Switzerland had the greatest direct influence on modern child psychology by means of direct observation and interaction, Piaget developed a theory of the acquisition of understanding in children. He described the various stages of learning in childhood and characterized children’s perceptions of themselves and of the world at each stage of learning.

Importance Of Child Psychology

  • As children grow up, they go through progressive developmental stages, from birth to adulthood. Environmental, genetic, and cultural factors can all affect a child’s development, and how quickly they progress from one stage to the next. It’s difficult for children to explain what they’re going through, much less to analyze their feelings. That’s where child psychology can help give us highly important and valuable information.
  • Child psychologists can help us understand the normal and abnormal psychological patterns of a child, they can help parents understand how to best communicate and connect with their child, teach their child coping mechanisms for managing emotions, and help their child progress and thrive in each new developmental stage.
  • Child psychologists can also identify abnormal behaviours early, help detect the root of common behavioural issues such as learning issues, hyperactivity, or anxiety, and help children work through early childhood trauma. They can also help to prevent, evaluate, and diagnose developmental delays or abnormalities such as autism.

Areas Of Child Psychology

Child Psychology is a branch of developmental psychology and researchers and practitioners often separate development into specific areas. Broadly, these areas tend to focus on children’s physical, cognitive and social/emotional development.

1. Development

The study of child development is often divided into three broad areas: physical, cognitive, and social-emotional. Physical development, which generally occurs in a relatively stable, predictable sequence, refers to physical body changes and includes the acquisition of certain skills, such as gross-motor and fine-motor coordination. Cognitive or intellectual development, meanwhile, refers to the processes children use to gain knowledge and includes language, thought, reasoning, and imagination. Because social and emotional development are interrelated, these two areas are often grouped together. Learning to relate to others is part of a child’s social development, while emotional development involves feelings and the expression of feelings. Trust, fear, confidence, pride, friendship, and humour are all part of one’s social-emotional development.

While they may be divided into categories for the sake of easier understanding, the physical, cognitive, and social-emotional areas of a child’s development are all inextricably linked. Development in one area can strongly influence that in another. For instance, writing words requires both fine-motor skills and cognitive language skills. And, just as research has made known the different areas of development, it also shows that development follows key patterns, or principles. Understanding these principles has had an enormous influence on how we care for, treat and educate children today.

2. Milestones

Developmental milestones are an important way for psychologists to measure a child’s progress in several important developmental areas. Essentially, they act as checkpoints in a child’s development to determine what the average child is able to do at a particular age. Knowing the milestones for different ages helps the psychologist understand normal child development and also aids in identifying potential problems with delayed development. For example, a child who is 12 months old can typically stand and support his or her weight by holding onto something. Some children at this age can even walk. If a child reaches 18 months of age but still cannot walk, it might indicate a problem that needs further investigation.

Child psychologists look at four main categories of milestones, which loosely follow the main developmental areas discussed above. First, there are physical milestones, which pertain to the development of both the gross and fine motor skills. Second, there are cognitive or mental milestones, which refer to the child’s developmental aptitude for thinking, learning, and solving problems. Third, there are social and emotional milestones, which pertain to the child’s ability to express emotion and respond to social interaction. And, finally, there are communication and language milestones, which involve the child’s developing verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

3. Behaviour

All children can be naughty, defiant and impulsive from time to time. Conflicts between parents and children are also inevitable as the latter struggle, from the “terrible twos” through adolescence, to assert their independence and develop their own identities. These behaviours are a normal part of the growing-up process. However, some children have extremely difficult and challenging behaviours that are outside the norm for their age. In fact, behavioural disorders are the most common reason that parents seek the help of child psychologists.

In some cases, these behavioural issues are temporary problems due largely to stressful situations, such as the birth of a sibling, a divorce, or a death in the family. Other cases involve a pattern of sustained hostile, aggressive, or disruptive behaviours that are not appropriate for the child’s age. The most typical disruptive behaviour disorders include oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These three behavioural disorders share some common symptoms, and can be further exacerbated by emotional problems and mood disorders. Child psychology involves looking at all possible roots to these behavioural issues, including brain disorders, genetics, diet, family dynamics and stress, and then treating them accordingly.

4. Emotions

Emotional development involves learning what feelings and emotions are, understanding how and why they happen, recognising one’s own feelings and those of others, and developing effective ways of managing them. This complex process begins in infancy and continues into adulthood. The first emotions that can be recognised in babies include joy, anger, sadness and fear. Later, as children begin to develop a sense of self, more complex emotions like shyness, surprise, elation, embarrassment, shame, guilt, pride and empathy emerge. The things that provoke emotional responses also change, as do the strategies used to manage them.

Learning to regulate emotions is more difficult for some children than for others. This may be due to their particular emotional temperament – some children simply feel emotions more intensely and easily, are more emotionally reactive and find it harder to calm down. Emotionally reactive children also tend to get anxious more quickly and easily than other children. It is the work of the child psychologist, then, to identify the reasons the child is having difficulty expressing or regulating his or her emotions and to develop strategies to help him or her learn to accept feelings and understand the links between feelings and behaviour.

5. Socialisation

Closely related to emotional development is social development. Stated simply, socialisation involves acquiring the values, knowledge and skills that enable children to relate to others effectively and to contribute in positive ways to family, school and the community. Although the process begins shortly after birth and continues into adulthood, the age of early childhood is a crucial period for socialisation.

One of the first and most important relationships children experience is with their parents or primary caregivers and the quality of this relationship has a significant effect on later social development. In peer relationships, children learn how to initiate and maintain social interactions with other children, acquiring skills for managing conflict, such as turn-taking, compromise, and bargaining. Play also involves the mutual, sometimes complex, coordination of goals, actions, and understanding. Through these experiences, children develop friendships that provide additional sources of security and support to those provided by their parents.

Factors that can contribute to an inability to develop age-appropriate social skills include everything from the amount of love and affection the child receives to the socio-economic status of the family. Children who fail to properly socialise have difficulty creating and maintaining satisfying relationships with others – a limitation many carry into adulthood. Areas a psychologist will attempt to address when working with such children include curbing hostile or aggressive impulses and, instead, learning to self-express in socially appropriate ways; engaging in socially constructive actions (such as helping, caring and sharing with others) and developing a healthy sense of self

Understanding A Child Better

Psychological Tips

  1. Observation : One of the simplest, yet most effective, ways to learn about children and their psyche is observation. Showing interest in what they say or observing their actions, expressions, and temperament when they eat, sleep, and play are some of the ways to understand a child’s psyche.
  2. Time : If you want to understand a child better, you need to make time for them. Spend quality time with the child, chat and play with them and observe their response to you and their environment.
  3. Attention : Giving undivided attention to a child makes him/her more comfortable with you and will not hesitate to open up to you about their fears and insecurities. They are more likely to share their experiences and opinions with you.
  4. Environment : A child’s behaviour is largely dependent on his nuclear environment. In order to understand a child better one has to pay attention to the kind of environment he/she is brought up and nurtured.
  5. Physical and mental health :A child someone who is physically and mentally strong is a healthy child. It’s important to know a child’s physical and mental health to understand his/her overall development.
  6. Empathy : Acknowledge what the child says and respond accordingly. Make them understand that they are being taken seriously and are heard. Listen to their feelings; try to gauge what they have been going through.
  7. Emotional Quotient : Children are born with a unique temperament. Some are outspoken and proactive while others may be shy or slow to warm-up. Their emotional quotient is important to help them grow into healthy, emotionally intelligent adults.
  8. Education : Understand the child’s language and intellectual capabilities. Assess their academics, decision making and problem solving skills.

Childhood Psychological Disorders

Children acquire certain behaviors, that are either genetically acquired or taken from their environment. Most children have minor behavioral issues such as being rude or lacking attention. If these issues get complicated they become disorders. Understanding these disorders helps an adult to use a behaviour modification technique that is positive in nature and not just scold of yell at them.

Here are a few psychological disorders in children:

  1. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Children with ADHD display three main characteristics: inattentiveness, impulsiveness and hyperactivity. They can also be aggressive, fidget, and excited.
  2. Depression and Bipolar Disorder: Children with bipolar disorder tend to have sudden mood swings, long periods of hyperactivity followed by lethargy, tantrums, temper, frustration and defiant behavior.
  3. Anxiety Disorder: Children with anxiety disorder or general anxiety disorder tend to worry excessively about everything. Even the little issues tend to give them anxiety and stresses them out.
  4. Anxiety Disorder: Children with general anxiety disorder tend to worry excessively about everything. Even the most trivial of issues tend to give them anxiety and stresses them out.
  5. Asperger’s Syndrome: This syndrome is a mild form of autism. Symptoms include lack of social skills, dislike in change of the routine and the familiar environment, no eye contact, and facial expressions, lack of empathy unusual behaviour and awkward motor skills.
  6. Learning Disability: This is a psychological disorder that makes learning difficult . It’s symptoms include inability to pay attention, poor memory, poor eye- hand coordination, inability to follow instructions or directions, and lack of organization.
  7. Disruptive Behavior Disorder:Children with this disorder may tend to bully others, isolate themselves from social situations, destroy property or hurt animals deliberately, they may even lie or steal things.
  8. Eating Disorders:Children who has eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia tend to have abnormal eating habits. These disorders are usually the result of their obsessive thinking about weight gain and physical appearance. It’s symptoms include their inability to eat anything, vomiting and binge-eating.
  9. Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is not as common among children as it is common in adults. Symptoms of this psychological disorder include social withdrawal, lack of motivation, sleeplessness, drop in academic performance, depression, forgetfulness and strange behavior.

What Does A Child Psychologist Do?

Psychologists are trained to study human mental processes and behaviour; they observe, interpret, and record how people relate to other people and their environment. However, a child psychologist refines this study further to focus on children. A child psychologist observes children’s behavior patterns and interactions and then makes an interpretation based on his observations to explain why the child is or is not acting in certain ways. Child psychologists generally work with children from birth to about age 13, but may also work with adolescents.

Clinical Setup

A child psychologist who works in a clinical practice where his/her primary responsibility is to assess and treat children who are suffering from mental illness, behavioural or emotional disturbances. Although psychologists cannot prescribe medications, they can provide other types of psychological care such as counseling and play therapy. A child psychologist may work with an individual child, with a child and parents or with a group of children.


Some child psychologists work in research field. Their role is to observe interactions between healthy children and their parents or caregivers as well as to observe how a child reacts to something negative or positive , such as a frightening picture or a beautiful scenery. Researchers also observe children who have mental illness in order to determine how their behavior differs from that of mentally healthy children. Because primate behavior is similar to that of children in some ways, a child psychologist may also observe animals in research studies.


Child psychologists often work in schools or in programs such as preschool or Head Start. The focus of their work is to help children whose problems are preventing them from learning. Family issues such as poverty, substance abuse or domestic violence can result in behavioral or emotional problems at school. Traumatic events such as being a witness to an accident or experiencing a death in the family can also affect a child's mental health. The psychologist helps the child deal with problems and promotes healthy behaviors such as learning problem-solving and coping skills.

Public Health and Social Service

Child psychologists also work in public health and social service agencies, where they work with children in the foster care system or who are being raised by grandparents or other family members due to the absence, death, incarceration or mental health issues of their parents. In such cases, although one child may be referred initially and become the primary patient, the child psychologist will often also interact with siblings and other members of the child's family.