What is a Child Psychologist?
A child Psychologist is a psychologist who has trained specifically to provide assessments and treatments for children experiencing behavioural, social, emotional (click here to know signs of depression for children), or educational problems. They have specific knowledge about child development and childhood disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). But what does a child psychologist do you might ask? This blog will give you a quick rundown on how a child psychologist works with little poppets and their families.
What Does a Child Psychologist Do?
Child psychologists work in different ways to other psychologists. This is because we work with adult’s central to children (such as teachers and parents) as well as with children themselves. Visiting a child psychologist will first involve an assessment phase, where it is determined what is happening, and then a treatment phase, this is when the psychologist, parents and child are actively working together to improve the problem.
During the assessment phase, parents are very important since they spend the most time with their child, they are often the best informants about what is going on. During the first sessions, we spend time with parents to understand what they are most concerned about. We will ask parents about their child’s development, their family, and their schooling. We might ask questions about their child’s friendships, their wellbeing, and their health. These are often questions that children don’t know the answers to or can’t remember.
The assessment may also involve contacting the child’s teacher to understand what is happening for the child at school. Teachers provide us with information about children’s relationships, their academic progress and their behaviour. During school visits, we may observe a child in the classroom or in the playground. This tells us information about similarities or differences across home and school.
Once we have a better understanding of why your child is experiencing problems, we devise a treatment plan specifically for your child. For example, if a child has anxiety, we may work with the child and parent to think and respond to the anxiety in more helpful ways, complete behavioural tasks that challenge fears, and help parents assist their child to feel safe and secure.
Psychological treatments with children are different to those with adults – interventions need to be targeted to the child’s developmental age, therefore, important messages and helpful skills are taught through the use of games and activities that are interesting and fun.
Do I attend the first session with my child?
Yes, definitely. Children need time to get to know us and feel comfortable. Often younger children will snuggle with their Mum or Dad during the first session. Children don’t have knowledge of psychologists before coming to see us, and they need time to watch and listen until they feel more at ease.
Secondly, parents need to give consent for us to work with their child. Children need to be able to be intellectually capable, understand confidentiality and the reasons for coming to our service before they can give their own consent to treatment. This is not normally achieved until children reach adolescence, but there is no set age for this.
What do I tell my child before seeing a psychologist?
A number of parents ask this question, and it is an important one. Children, just like adults, like to be informed of what they are doing and why! What you do say should depend on their age and their ability to understand what is happening. Try to prepare children as much as possible by telling them the name of the person they are coming to see, and when the appointment is.
I often tell younger children that I am a lady who talks with kids when they have “big feelings” like anger or worry. Sometimes these feelings get so big that they might feel sad, scared or angry a lot. My job is to help them to make their big feelings smaller so they feel happy more often. You might like to explain this to your littlie too.
For older children and teenagers, you can send the same message, but using more age-appropriate language. So you might explain that a psychologist is someone who can help you work through the difficult feelings and times you’ve been having and will help you to solve their problems in a safe and confidential place.
If you think your child would benefit from visiting a child psychologist, the next step might be to see your GP and request a referral to see a child psychologist. For more information on how to find a “good” child psychologist, different government schemes and referrals that can assist with the costs in seeing a psychologist, and what to expect at your first visit with a child psychologist, please download our free eBook we prepared for you titled “Your 101 Guide to Visiting a Child Psychologist”.