What Does a Child Psychologist Do?
Child psychologists study the mental, behavioral, and emotional development of children, focusing on the period from birth to adolescence. Psychologists in this specialty may treat relatively healthy children by evaluating a variety of factors — including language, cognitive functions, and motor skills — throughout each stage of early childhood development. However, child psychologists also diagnose and treat children with severe psychological disorders such as autism, mood disorders, and issues resulting from trauma or abuse. Child psychologists may counsel patients in schools, social service agencies, government organizations, the juvenile justice system, or private practice, often using behavioral modification therapy, play therapy, journaling, and therapeutic intervention techniques.
Child psychology encompasses several primary subspecialties, including pediatric, adolescent, and abnormal child psychology. Professionals in a particular subspecialty of child psychology may target a more exclusive patient group, such as infants or adolescents, or focus on advanced behavioral disorders affecting children, adolescents, or both. Regardless of a child psychologist's area of specialty, they must earn licensure in their state through the American Board of Professional Psychology to enter into clinical practice. The process of obtaining licensure typically requires a doctoral degree from an accredited institution, extensive work experience, and a passing score on a board examination in the candidate's specialty of choice.
Can You Get a Degree in Child Psychology Online?
While earning a child psychology degree is a multi-faceted process that requires years of dedication, online education has enabled greater access to individuals interested in this specialty. Pursuing a child psychology degree online requires the same rigorous study as traditional campus-based programs, but with modern conveniences that allow students to maintain full-time jobs, care for their families, and work at their own pace. As all states require aspiring clinical psychologists to hold a doctoral degree prior to earning licensure, Ph.D.s are widely available online alongside a variety of bachelor's and master's programs in subspecialties that include child development psychology and clinical child psychology.
Online child psychology graduate programs typically include the same core and concentration coursework as their on-campus counterparts. Online and on-campus programs differ in terms of the practicum and/or any other professional experience required to complete the degree. While online learners must still fulfill practicum hours in person, the majority of online Ph.D. in child psychology and master's in child psychology online programs allow students to arrange clinicals and practicums near their residence.
Earning a child psychology degree online can enable some students to graduate more quickly and help save on transportation and tuition costs. Many online programs offer both full- and part-time options that enable students to take as many or as few classes as they wish per term. Additionally, a self-paced online curriculum serves not only students living in rural areas, but also parents without childcare and full-time professionals looking to earn their degree from the comfort of their own homes.
Are Practicums and Internships Required in an Online Child Psychology Program?
Online programs in child psychology, like traditional on-campus programs, must adhere to state licensing board regulations to earn accreditation. As a result, nearly all psychology programs, regardless of delivery method, require some sort of internship or practicum. A key component of any child psychology graduate program, practicum courses allow students to put their skills into practice through supervised professional experiences, ideally under the guidance of a licensed psychologist who is working in the particular specialty and/or setting of the student's choice. Though practicum requirements are standard for psychology majors, many schools face a shortage of appropriate positions for graduate students to fulfill their minimum clinical hours.
For online students, securing a supervised practicum can be even more challenging. However, there are a few ways to maximize practicum placement opportunities. First and foremost, it is crucial for students to maintain a high GPA and prepare thoroughly for each interview to earn a top spot in the pool of candidates. Additionally, students who seize every field opportunity and start looking for practicum sites as early as possible after starting (or even before starting) their degree have the best chance of finding the right fit. Throughout the process, it's important to remain flexible about your options, as you may need to complete a practicum in a broader area of practice before finding the perfect opportunity in your subspecialty of choice.
How Do I Become a Child Psychologist?
Professional child psychologists spend about eight years and thousands of dollars to earn the credentials to practice in their state. Though tuition costs vary from school to school, students must complete both a bachelor's degree and a child psychology master's program before pursuing a Ph.D. in child psychology on the path to licensure. In addition to fulfilling the regular academic demands of each degree, students must meet the minimum number of supervised practicum hours (between 1,500-6,000, depending on the state board).
To obtain licensure, students must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Exam registration requires a Ph.D. and costs $600, though many students pay extra for tutoring and practice tests. Lastly, you may be required to take a jurisprudence exam (costs vary) specific to the practice regulations and ethics in your state.
While the path to licensure may seem daunting, earning a child psychology degree online is one way to save substantially over the course of your academic career. With a wide variety of child development psychology and clinical child psychology programs available online, aspiring child psychologists can save on tuition, commuting, and housing costs, while potentially completing the program — and beginning their career — in less time than a traditional degree.
Online Bachelor's Degree in Child Psychology
Child psychology and development degrees at the bachelor's level provide students with a broad, foundational education in psychology. Most schools offer bachelor's degrees in child psychology as a concentration of a general psychology degree, though some programs focus more directly on this particular subdiscipline.
While most students pursue a bachelor's as the necessary first step toward a graduate degree, graduates of an undergraduate psychology program may be eligible for entry-level jobs in education, social services, or health services. Whether students pursue the bachelor's as a stepping stone or a terminal degree, earning a child psychology degree online can offer substantial savings of time and money, with flexible options that allow students to avoid traveling to campus and potentially graduate in less than four years.
Introduction to psychology
This course introduces students to broad scientific concepts in psychology, including general behaviors, disorders, and diagnoses commonly encountered by professional psychologists. Students learn research, evaluation, and assessment techniques to prepare them for further exploration of a specialization in child psychology.
This course explores psychological development in humans from conception to death. Topics include biological, social, emotional, and cognitive development. Students also discuss the effects of environmental factors, genetic disposition, and cultural expectations on the individual during their lifetime.
Disorders of childhood and adolescence
This course addresses how to diagnose and treat the specific psychological and behavioral disorders prevalent among children and adolescents. Through case studies and field research, students explore the effects these disorders have not only on individuals, but also on their families and communities.
This course is crucial to understanding the biological, emotional, social, and cognitive psychology of children, from infancy to adolescence. Through research and case studies, students reference historical field precedents to discuss critical contemporary themes and theories in child development.
Focusing on pre-adolescence to young adulthood, this course explores the many psychological changes that occur during this unique stage of life. Topics include puberty, sexuality, identity, relationships, and identifying the components of healthy psychological development not only throughout adolescence but in the context of a lifetime.
Online Master's Degree in Child Psychology
Students with a bachelor's degree in general or child psychology can go on to pursue a master's in child psychology online. At this level, child psychology graduate programs explore this specialty in more detail, building on the foundational skills learned while earning an undergraduate degree.
Master's degrees in child psychology are far more specialized than an undergraduate psychology degree, some even offering further concentrations — such as pediatric psychology and adolescent psychology — or concurrent certificates in spectrum disorders, play therapy, or applied behavior analysis. While a master's degree is among the primary criteria for a Ph.D. program, graduates with a master's degree in child psychology may qualify for jobs as social workers, counselors, and mental health professionals, though they are not eligible for licensure to interact with patients through clinical practice at this stage. As field experience is a major component of most graduate programs, earning a child psychology degree online provides students with the added flexibility of completing the majority of their non-practicum coursework from the comfort of their own homes.
This course provides an in-depth exploration of the effect of contemporary social issues on children's psychological development. Students discuss how humans interact with other humans and their environment, exploring ideas of identity, conformity, and obedience through case studies and field research.
This course encourages a more comprehensive investigation of the core processes of cognition, including language, learning, memory, and decision making. Students discuss these topics in the context of current issues.
This course introduces students to both contemporary and traditional intervention strategies specific to the treatment of children and adolescents. Through simulations and hands-on experience, students explore practical applications of intervention techniques, including play therapy and behavior modification.
Theories of personality
This course investigates various contemporary and historical theories of personality in the context of child psychology. By evaluating the texts of influential psychologists including Freud, students discuss how such theories have impacted the field of psychology and the treatment of individuals, historically as well as in the present.
Ethical practice in psychology
This course approaches ethics in psychology comprehensively, discussing the principles of confidentiality, professional conduct, conflict resolution, respect, and experimentation. Students prepare to practice psychology in an ethical and morally sound manner, regardless of their position or career.
Online Ph.D. in Child Psychology
Students aspiring to a career as a clinical psychologist specializing in child psychology must earn a doctorate in order to obtain licensure in their state of practice. As the last step toward licensing eligibility, Ph.D. programs focus on intensive research in the field, typically in the form of a thesis or dissertation. In addition to academic requirements, Ph.D. and Psy.D. candidates must complete clinical practicum hours, demonstrating the ability to put years of supervised work experience into practice in a real-world setting as a child psychologist or college professor.
While a Ph.D. in child psychology program can be demanding, many schools now offer online degrees in an effort to maximize the flexibility of course delivery options, reduce the need for transportation costs to and from campus, and alleviate the pressures of working full time while also earning the degree.
Development in the digital age
This course explores the psychological development of children and adolescents in the context of social media and pervasive technology in the digital era. Students examine the effects of sexting, cyberbullying, and violence in the media on identity and social relationships, while also exploring methods of positive behavioral intervention.
Gender and development
A topic of mounting interest among psychologists in the LGBTQ community, this course compares historical and contemporary theories of gender and sex differences in children and adolescents. Topics include body image, stereotypes, gender similarities and differences, transgender psychology, and gender-sensitive policy making.
Advanced mixed-method reasoning and analysis
Typically offered as an elective in place of a course focused on quantitative or qualitative research alone, this course encourages students to develop specialized knowledge and skills using both methods. Students prepare to employ various data analysis and research techniques at the doctoral level, combining methods as appropriate.
Principles/conceptual foundations of behavior analysis for children and adolescents
This course provides a comprehensive survey of common behavioral and developmental issues affecting children and adolescents, emphasizing "spectrum" disorders, such as autism. Students explore effective observation, assessment, and intervention techniques specific to this demographic.
Diversity in child/adolescent development and learning
This course investigates the effects of diversity through language, gender, disability, and sexual orientation on children and adolescents. Students discuss methods of encouraging positive learning and development in this group through field research, self-reflection, and practical applications of psychological theory.
Required Licenses and Internships to Become a Child Psychologist
To become a child psychologist in the U.S., professionals are required to meet a series of qualifications, as outlined by the American Psychological Association (APA). The majority of accredited child psychology graduate programs develop their curriculum according to APA industry standards, meaning graduates of an accredited program will have met the requirements for employment and/or licensure in their state. In short, the minimum requirements for aspiring child psychologists are a doctoral degree, between 1,500 and 6,000 hours of supervised experience, a passing score on the EPPP (to obtain licensure), and a passing score on a supplemental state exam (if required in your state).
Field experience is perhaps the most crucial component of an emerging career in child psychology. Though requirements vary from state to state, the APA estimates that students require an average of 4,000 supervised clinical hours to earn licensure, divided equally between internship and postdoctoral hours. Students typically begin fulfilling the majority of these required field hours through an internship or practicum during the master's degree. Those who plan to pursue a Ph.D. must continue logging field experience hours toward the minimum required for licensure in their state. While experience in a setting specific to child psychology is ideal, students may complete supervised clinical hours in a general psychology facility as approved by program advisers. While not required, students may pursue additional certification in a subspecialty, such as autism spectrum disorders or applied behavior analysis.
Careers for Child Psychology Degree Holders
Graduates of a child psychology degree online program are qualified for a variety of careers, including but not limited to clinical practice. The ideal child psychologist is not only educated and experienced but also empathetic, boundary-setting, and communicative, with excellent listening and critical-thinking skills. This combination of characteristics makes these graduates a good fit for therapeutic counseling, social service, and teaching positions. Child psychologists may have a particular interest in working with clients of a certain age, such as infants or adolescents, or in a concentrated area, such as autism or early childhood development.
- Adolescent psychologist
- Adolescent psychologists specialize in understanding the psychological development of pre-teens and teenagers, ages 12-18. These professionals are responsible for assessing and potentially treating common behavioral and developmental issues affecting adolescents, including criminality, depression, abuse, and eating disorders. Practicing psychologists in this specialty must earn a Ph.D. or Psy.D. to obtain state licensure. They may work in schools, healthcare, the juvenile justice system, or private practice.
- Developmental psychologist
- Developmental psychologists must possess a variety of skills in treating the complete developmental needs of patients at all stages of life. These professionals study the evolution and maturation of the individual, helping clients grow and adapt to social, psychological, physical, intellectual, and emotional changes from childhood to old age. Developmental psychologists must hold a clinical Ph.D. or Psy.D. in this subspecialty to obtain licensure and pursue employment in a school, senior living facility, government agency, or private practice, or to become a postsecondary teacher in this discipline.
- Clinical child psychologist
- A subspecialty of the broader field of child psychology, clinical child psychologists focus on treating behavioral, socio-emotional, and cognitive issues affecting children, including trauma, advanced developmental disabilities, and severe mental disorders. Clinical child psychologists are qualified to treat patients from infancy to adolescence. Whether employed in schools, healthcare, social services, or private practice, these professionals must possess a doctorate and a state-issued license.
- Child psychologist
- A child psychologist, trained in broad concepts and theory within this age group, treats relatively healthy children with few psychological impairments. Child psychologists often counsel patients from early childhood to adolescence, potentially providing assessments and evaluations of clients to families, school officials, and/or other health professionals. More acute subspecialties include developmental and pediatric psychology. Professionals must earn a doctoral degree and obtain licensure to practice in their state.
- Pediatric psychologist
- Pediatric psychologists treat patients from infancy to adolescence, specializing in early childhood disorders and development. Professionals in this subspecialty are responsible for recognizing conditions commonly diagnosed in early childhood (such as ADHD and autism), and generally approach the treatment of young patients at this critical stage of development holistically, as they are dependent on their families and may be vulnerable to environmental and societal concerns. Pediatric psychologists are required to hold a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in this specialty with licensure in order to practice professionally in their state.
Salary for Child Psychology Degree Holders
While child psychologist salaries vary based on which subspecialty they practice, other factors affecting income include where they live, their education and licensure status, and their level of experience. As shown below, among common subspecialties in the field, the median annual salary of pediatric psychologists is more than $10,000 higher than that of general child psychologists, and nearly $20,000 higher than the annual average income of adolescent psychologists.
|Position||Median Annual Salary|
|Clinical Child Psychologist||$65,000|