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. These psychologists may treat relatively healthy children by evaluating language, cognitive functions, and motor skills throughout each stage of early childhood development. 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 may work with specific patient groups, such as infants or adolescents, or focus on advanced behavioral disorders affecting children, adolescents, or both. Regardless of their specialty, all child psychologists must earn licensure in their state through the American Board of Professional Psychology. For licensure, individuals typically need a doctoral degree from an accredited institution, extensive work experience, and a passing score on a board examination.
On this page, learn more about the role of a child psychologist, their duties, and their work environments.
Frequently Asked Questions About Child Psychology
What is child psychology?
One of the most frequently studied branches of psychology, child psychology focuses on the behavior and mind of children from prenatal development through adolescence. The discipline focuses on how children grow physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially. Child psychology also explores how childhood can impact individuals' entire lives.
Why is child psychology important?
Understanding which influences contribute to normal child development helps professionals pinpoint factors that can lead to psychological problems during childhood, including self-esteem issues. Child psychologists can help children develop in healthy, appropriate ways.
Is child psychology a good career path?
Child psychologists can pursue opportunities across a variety of settings, including large clinics, private practices, and schools. These professionals typically work normal business hours in full-time roles. According to PayScale, child psychologists make an average annual salary of $69,339 with compensation increasing up to about $96,000 annually for experienced professionals.
What can I do with a child psychology degree?
Earning a child psychology degree online can prepare graduates for many lucrative career opportunities depending on their degree level. Master's graduates can sometimes pursue opportunities as child psychologists, but those positions typically require a doctoral degree. Other options include school psychologists, developmental psychologists, school counselors, and family therapists, all requiring either a master's or doctoral degree.
How do I become a child psychologist?
State regulations typically require child psychologists to earn a doctoral degree. After earning their degree, professionals often must complete 1-2 years of supervised training before they can practice professionally.
Featured Online Psychology Bachelor's Programs
Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.
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.
All states require aspiring clinical psychologists to hold a doctoral degree prior to earning licensure. As a result, learners can explore many doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology programs online alongside bachelor's and master's programs in subspecialties such as child development psychology and clinical child psychology.
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.
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 or any other professional experience required to complete the degree. While online learners must still fulfill practicum hours in person, most 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 sooner and help reduce transportation and tuition costs. Many online programs offer both full- and part-time options that allow students to take as many classes as they wish per term. Online learning benefits many learners, including those who live in rural areas, parents without childcare, and full-time professionals who want to earn their degree while continuing their jobs.
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 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.
Online students may experience greater challenges securing a supervised practicum. However, they can maximize practicum placement opportunities by maintaining a high GPA and preparing thoroughly for each interview to earn a top spot in the pool of candidates.
Students who seize every field opportunity and research practicum sites early stand the best chance of finding the right fit. Throughout the process, learners must remain flexible with their options. They may need to complete a practicum in a broader practice area before finding an opportunity in their chosen subspecialty.
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 by school, students must complete a bachelor's degree and a child psychology master's program before pursuing a Ph.D. in child psychology. In addition to fulfilling each degree's academic demands, students must meet the minimum number of supervised practicum hours. Learners need 1,500-6,000 hours, 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. Learners may need to take a jurisprudence exam (costs vary) specific to their state's practice regulations and ethics.
While the path to licensure may seem daunting, earning a child psychology degree online provides many savings opportunities. Online learners 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 learners 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 that psychologists commonly encounter. Students learn research, evaluation, and assessment techniques to prepare them for further exploration of a child psychology specialization.
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 individuals 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, learners 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 pursue a master's in child psychology online. At this level, programs explore the specialty in more detail, building on the foundational skills from an undergraduate degree.
Significantly more specialized than undergraduate psychology degrees, master's degrees in child psychology sometimes offer further concentrations 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 most of their non-practicum coursework from home.
This course examines 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 learners 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, learners discuss how such theories have impacted the psychology field and the treatment of individuals, historically and currently.
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
Aspiring child psychologists must earn a doctorate 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.
Considering the demands of a Ph.D. in child psychology program, many schools offer online degrees to provide flexibility in course delivery, reduce the need for commuting, 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 DevelopmentA topic of mounting interest among psychologists is 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 policymaking.
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. Learners 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. Learners discuss methods of encouraging positive learning and development 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 must meet a series of qualifications, as outlined by the American Psychological Association (APA). Most accredited child psychology graduate programs develop their curriculum according to APA industry standards, meaning graduates of an accredited program meet requirements for employment or licensure in their state. Aspiring child psychologists need 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 their state.
Field experience is perhaps the most crucial component of an emerging career in child psychology. Though requirements vary by 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. Learners typically fulfill most 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 gaining 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 advisors. Learners may pursue additional optional certification in a subspecialty, such as autism spectrum disorders or applied behavior analysis.
Careers for Child Psychology Degree Holders
Those who graduate from an online child psychology program can pursue a variety of careers, including but not limited to clinical practice. Child psychologists need education and experience and should demonstrate empathy, excellent communication skills, and boundary-setting abilities. These professionals also need superior critical thinking skills. Professionals with these characteristics can succeed in therapeutic counseling, social service, and teaching positions. Child psychologists may want to work with clients of a certain age, such as infants or adolescents, or in a concentrated area, such as autism or early childhood development.
These psychologists specialize in understanding the psychological development of pre-teens and teenagers, ages 12-18. They assess and potentially treat common behavioral and developmental issues affecting adolescents, including criminality, depression, abuse, and eating disorders. These psychologists may work in schools, healthcare, the juvenile justice system, or private practice.
These psychologists need a variety of skills in treating the complete developmental needs of patients at all stages of life. They 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 may work in a school, senior living facility, government agency, or private practice. They may also work as postsecondary teachers.
Trained in broad concepts and theory within this age group, child psychologists treat relatively healthy children with few psychological impairments. They often counsel patients from early childhood to adolescence, potentially providing client assessments and evaluations to families, school officials, or other health professionals. More acute subspecialties include developmental and pediatric psychology. Professionals need a doctoral degree and must obtain licensure to practice in their state.
These psychologists treat patients from infancy to adolescence, specializing in early childhood disorders and development. They are responsible for recognizing conditions commonly diagnosed in early childhood, such as ADHD and autism. Pediatric psychologists generally approach the treatment of young patients at this critical development stage holistically, as they are dependent on their families and may be vulnerable to environmental and societal concerns. Pediatric psychologists need a doctorate in this specialty with licensure.
Salary For Child Psychology Degree-Holders
While child psychologist salaries vary by subspecialty, many factors affect income, including location, education, and experience. The chart below lists salary information for some common subspecialties. The average annual salary of clinical psychologists is nearly $10,000 higher than that of general child psychologists, and nearly $15,000 higher than the annual average income of developmental psychologists.
|Position||Average Annual Salary|
|Pediatric Occupational Therapist||$61,813|