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Introduction to child psychology
Introduction to child psychology

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4 Child psychologists in applied settings

Child psychology is not just about developing theories to explain development, it also has a practical reason. It is about working with children and young people to support their lives. Child psychologists often work in practical settings such as schools and hospitals, to help support development. Here we offer two examples of work in practical settings.

Educational settings

Educational psychologists work with children who find it difficult to learn, understand or communicate with others or may have behavioural difficulties. Educational psychologists work in schools with teachers, families and school administrators to help children who are struggling with specific educational issues.

Activity 2 What is the role of an educational psychologist?

Click on the link to watch the following video and then answer the question below. At one point it uses the acronym SENCO, which stands for special educational needs coordinator.

  • How does the video suggest that educational psychologists can support the lives of children and young people?

Type your answer in the box, and then click ‘Save and reveal comment’ to compare it with our suggested answer.

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As the video suggests, educational psychologists work closely with a child’s parents or carers as well as those offering support in schools, such as the special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs), to help maximise the support that can be offered for children and young people in educational contexts. Educational psychologists must be aware of how changes in a child’s behaviour might indicate a more serious problem such as abuse or bullying, and are responsible for ensuring that appropriate action is taken. The psychologist can assess the child using standardised tests. A standardised test is one that is administered and scored in a consistent manner across all children. Using standardised scores, educational psychologists can assess how an individual child’s development is progressing compared to that of other children in their age group. Educational psychologists often use a range of measures to identify and diagnose specific learning difficulties and make suggestions for interventions in the classroom and school generally.

Clinical settings

Clinical psychologists study, assess and treat a wide range of biological, psychological and social problems that children and young people may experience in their personal lives. This might involve the assessment of individuals to find out what they are struggling with, interventions that support individuals to cope with that difficulty or prevention programmes that stop them suffering. Clinical psychologists also consult with other professionals to offer as holistic a support structure for individuals as possible.

Similarly to educational psychologists, clinicians often use diagnostic tests to identify children who are experiencing mental health difficulties, who are at risk of having some kind of developmental disorder, such as autism or ADHD, or to assess the progress of children who have suffered physical or mental damage. By understanding how children of a certain age typically respond, clinical psychologists can identify symptoms of mental health difficulties, or developmental disorders with the goal of securing children appropriate support as early as possible.