What is a Child Psychology Degree?

Child psychologists study the genetic, social, and environmental factors that influence children from infancy through adolescence. Those that work in clinical practice help children and adolescents cope with stressors and related issues.

Degree programs in child psychology prepare students to work in one or more of the three main concentrations in the field.

Adolescent psychology is focused on issues relevant to children and youth between the ages of 12 and 18. These issues include behavioral problems, learning disabilities, depression, and eating disorders.

Developmental child psychology is concerned with the emotional and cognitive developments that impact children as they age. Among these developments are language, formation of identity, and understanding of morality.

Abnormal Child Psychology focuses on the treatment of children and adolescents dealing with atypical issues like physical abuse, trauma, personality disorders, and sociopathy.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Child Psychology – Four Year Duration
Graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree in Child Psychology may qualify for some roles in social work, education, and child care. In most cases, however, the degree is a stepping stone to further education in the field. This is because individuals who wish to become clinical child psychologists, who work directly with patients, must hold a doctoral degree.

As some schools do not offer a specific child psychology degree at the undergraduate level, it is quite common for aspiring child psychologists to earn a bachelor’s in general psychology.

Following are some common undergraduate courses:

  • Introductory Psychology
  • Introduction to Developmental, Social, Personality, and Clinical Psychology
  • Introduction to Biological and Cognitive Psychology – the structure and function of the brain, memory, problem solving, how genes and hormones influence behavior
  • History of Psychology
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Child Learning and Development
  • Adolescent Development
  • Childhood and Adolescence Disorders
  • Children’s Rights and Child Advocacy
  • Experimental Research Methods
  • Clinical Psychology

Master’s Degree in Child Psychology – Two Year Duration
Many students earn a Master’s Degree in Child Psychology to qualify for acceptance into a doctoral program in the field. At this level, students typically choose to concentrate their studies in one the three primary sub-areas of child psychology: adolescent psychology, developmental psychology, or abnormal child psychology.

The focus of the master’s curriculum is original research on the thesis topic chosen by each individual student. In addition to successfully defending their thesis, master’s candidates must also complete graduate level core courses.

Here are some examples:

  • Social Psychology - how social interactions affect the individual
  • Cognitive Bases of Behavior
  • Neurological Bases of Behavior
  • Language Assessment
  • Emotional, Social, and Behavioral Assessment and Intervention Strategies
  • Personality Theories
  • Developmental Research Design
  • Multicultural Issues in Psychology
  • Psychology, Ethics, and the Law
  • Child Developmental Psychopathology – mental and behavioral disorders
  • Family Psychotherapy

Doctoral Degree in Child Psychology – Five to Seven Year Duration
Many students who earn a Doctoral Degree in Child Psychology go on to obtain licensure to practice clinical child psychology. The focus of this level of education is research, leading to a doctoral thesis or dissertation.

Programs combine lectures with clinical practicums. Students planning on a career in research often choose to earn a Ph.D. in child psychology, while those who intend to work directly with children and adolescents generally pursue a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree.

The following are some examples of doctoral dissertations in the field of child psychology:

  • How are children affected by the death of a parent?
  • What is the effect of immigration on children’s emotions and development?
  • How are children affected by divorce?
  • How are children affected by having a disabled sibling?
  • How does ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) influence child development?
  • How can a speech disorder affect a child’s development?
  • What causes violence in children?
  • What factors play a role in children’s ability to learn a second language?
  • Suicidal tendencies and cognitive brain change in adolescents

Degrees Similar to Child Psychology

Art Therapy
Art therapists use art as a therapy to support health and well-being and treat and rehabilitate patients with physical, mental, or emotional illnesses or disabilities. Their goal is to help the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. This degree is of particular interest to individuals who have an interest in and appreciation for art, the science of healthcare and rehabilitation, and the psychology that connects them.

Early Childhood Education (ECE)
A degree in early childhood education provides students with ECE fundamentals and helps them develop leadership and advocacy abilities, as well as the administrative skills required to work in the field. Typical coursework in degree and certificate programs focuses on child growth and development, behavior guidance, supporting children and families, children with exceptionalities, and effective curriculum planning.

Elementary Education
Degree programs in elementary education prepare students to teach children in their first stage of formal education, after preschool and before high school. They cover instructional techniques, curriculum development, and study of the subject areas to be taught.

The scientific study of the mind and behavior is the focus of psychology degree programs. In simple terms, psychology students study the way that humans and animals act, feel, think, and learn.

Social Work
Social work is about helping people solve and cope with problems and challenges in their everyday lives. Students who pursue a degree in the field gain the knowledge and skills, as well as the ethics and values, to work for social justice for individuals, families, organizations, and communities. The typical curriculum examines issues such as child welfare, mental health, poverty, aging, domestic violence, and marginalized groups.

Degree programs in sociology are focused on studying groups, from two people and beyond. Sociology students examine human behavior patterns and relationships at both the micro-level and the macro-level. They study interactions between individuals as well as in families, peer groups, cultural groups, gender groups, racial groups, religious groups, and social classes.

Special Education Teaching
Graduates with a degree in special education are qualified to teach students with physical or mental disabilities. They help students develop basic life skills and must be prepared to adapt their curriculum to do so.

Skills You’ll Learn

Child Psychology and Development
The capacity to understand the stages of the emotional, cognitive, and physical development of children is certainly something that can be used on a daily basis in parenting and other familial roles.

Students who successfully complete a child psychology degree program learn how to break down subjects and conversations into digestible, understandable pieces – an ability that is valued in virtually all professional and social circles.

Trust Building
Building trust is vital when working with children. The ability to build trust is valued in every kind of work, as well as in society at large.

Patience, Flexibility, and a Sense of Humor
Children are full of energy and curiosity. They are unpredictable and unfiltered. Working with them demands patience, flexibility, and a sense of humor – qualities that cannot go unused in any sphere of life.

Creativity and Adaptability
Child psychologists know that not all kids listen or learn in exactly the same way and are prepared to adapt their methods to respond to those differences.

An Appreciation for Diversity
Child psychologists are exposed to children from different backgrounds and home environments. They are called upon to cultivate an understanding of and an appreciation for diversity.

Assessment and Report Writing
Child psychologists must track, assess, and record their clients’ progress and development. These are skills that are transferrable to many professional sectors.

What Can You Do with a Child Psychology Degree?

Child psychology graduates are able to apply their knowledge and skills in a fairly wide variety of roles, all of which are focused on the mental, educational, and social well-being of children. Here are some sample career paths:

Child Psychology Private Practice
This career path is the most common for doctoral graduates in child psychology. Some of the most common issues they address with children are trauma, death, and divorce.

Animal-Assisted Therapy
This a growing sector in the field of psychology. It uses interaction with pets and animals to help people manage suffering and function better emotionally, socially, and cognitively.

Art Therapy
Art therapists combine knowledge and skills in psychology with therapeutic art projects. Depending on individual cases, they may be focused on helping a client or patient overcome a trauma, improve their self-esteem, express emotion, express creativity, experience less pain and anxiety, be more relaxed and sleep better, or simply make their hospital stay more positive.

College / University Teaching
To work in this sector generally requires a Doctoral Degree in Child Psychology. In most cases, college and university professors split their time between teaching and conducting research in the field.

Developmental Psychology
Developmental psychologists study the human life cycle. They focus on areas like childhood development, the aging process, language acquisition, and the impact of life events on our relationships, attitudes, and beliefs.

Family Therapy
This field is, of course, closely aligned with child therapy and child psychology. Family therapists provide guidance to families dealing with conflicts and facing troubles such as illness, unemployment, or death.

With a master’s or doctoral degree in the field, child psychologists may dedicate their careers to researching childhood mental and emotional disorders and developing new therapies and treatments.

School Guidance Counseling
Practitioners who work in this sector help students manage and overcome academic challenges and social anxiety, resist alcohol and drugs, and make post-secondary education and career choices.

School Psychology
School psychologists work in K-12 schools. They work with teachers, principals, administrators, counselors, and parents to provide students with academic, emotional, and social support.

Social Work / Social Service
While social workers work in various different settings and with people of all ages and backgrounds, many work with children and youth. Social workers help clients with mental, behavioral, and social problems, recommend community outreach programs, arrange adoptions and foster care, and generally act as advocates for both individuals and families in need of assistance.


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