Our guide to child psychology
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to child psychology

First published date December 03 2013 Amended date December 03 2013

Children are wonderful. But sometimes complicated. It's not always easy to know what thoughts are racing through their minds. While watching the hysterical children on the table next to you, do you ever wonder, how do these kids know the difference between right and wrong? Are they behaving like this because of their upbringing? Or is it more a question of genetics? In fact, how do infants make sense of the world around them? The answers to questions like these lie in child psychology.

Child psychology, also called child development, is a branch of psychology that focuses on children's physical, mental, emotional and social development. Child psychologists may study human life in the womb, babies, toddlers, adolescents, and all in between.

Helping young people with psychological difficulties can be challenging, but also extremely rewarding. Your care and support could make an enormous difference to children's lives, an influence that often extends into adulthood. It's worth bearing in mind that, globally, every year more than 200 million children under five years old fail to reach their full mental and social potential.

If you work with children and want to learn more about the theory and research in your field, a child psychology course would enable you to better understand the behaviour of children and adolescents.


Where could a child psychology course lead?

A child psychology course prepares you for a wide range of careers. It develops transferable career skills such as data handling and analysis, written and oral communication, group working skills, critical thinking and problem solving. So you could direct your career towards forensics, human resources, communication, the media, research, public relations, marketing and teaching. Many people who study child psychology decide to continue researching at university, undertaking a PhD research study. But the majority of people who undertake a child psychology course go on to work as mental health workers and counselors specialising in children and families.


Child psychologists play an infinite number of vital roles such as:

·         providing counseling to children who are stressed, traumatised or coping with life-changing experiences.

·         diagnosing and treating mental conditions.

·         assessing behaviour and learning support to ensure children achieve their goals.

·         helping institutions, like schools or treatment centres, create psychologically healthy environments.

·         conducting research to improve children's well-being.


What do you do on a child psychology course?

Child psychology courses draw together theory and research from a range of fields in psychology, including clinical and cognitive psychology, psychoanalysis and neuroscience. They then apply this knowledge specifically to child development.

Most child psychology courses combine theory and a practical placement. The theory is usually taught in lectures, tutorials or seminars. Whereas the placements take place in a clinic or institution where you can develop core clinical skills under the supervision of experienced clinicians. This allows you to develop practical skills for working with children and families in a clinical setting.

If you study a degree course, which typically lasts three years, you will gain Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC) with the British Psychological Society. This is essential for a career in psychology. In the final year of a degree course you will be expected to write a research project on a topic of your choice.


How can you choose the right child psychology course for you?

Before you sign up for a child psychology course, you should consider a few things. Ask yourself, ‘Will this course help me achieve my goals?’ Psychology is a broad, diverse subject. Perhaps there is another branch of psychology that would suit you better. If it is important for you to gain Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership with the British Psychological Society, make sure the course you decide to take provides this opportunity. Importantly, ensure you have the prerequisites to get on your preferred course. Some courses might want you to have already completed a general psychology course. And, of course, make sure you're interested in the topics covered by the course. There are some fascinating areas in child psychology, choose a course with topics that really grab you.


What kind of person do you need to be?

To make the most of a child psychology course you must be:

·         fascinated by the complex workings of the human brain.

·         interested not only in children, but also in their development.

·         a good team worker because child psychologists must communicate with a range of people: family, teachers, physicians, social workers and children.

·         happy to study subjects like maths, biology and statistics that are included in most psychology courses.

·         calm, understanding and patient because often you will be working in emotionally charged situations.

·         willing to try different games and activities with children.


Did you know...?

·         Baby talk has been shown to help the development of language in infants. Exaggerated vocalisations, high-pitched voices and simplified words help babies learn words more easily and quickly.

·         Language development occurs in four main stages: the babbling stage, the single-word stage, the two-word stage and the multi-word stage.

·         Physical development in children follows a top-down direction, beginning at the head and ending at the toes.


By Nick Kennedy

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