About the Child Psychology Degree Program

In the formative stages of the field of psychology, many believed children were merely smaller versions of adults with the same psychological responses as their much older counterparts. Pioneering child psychologist Jean Piaget changed this paradigm when he advanced theories demonstrating how children have their own unique psychological processes. Modern child psychology focuses on development, covering the physical, mental, and emotional changes in children as they progress from early childhood to adolescence to adulthood. Child psychology has become one of the most popular subsections of psychology due to its depth and breadth.

Although many undergraduate students are interested in completing child psychology degree programs, they are generally available only in graduate programs. Undergraduate psychology studies can be used as a foundation to prepare for a master’s or doctoral level degrees, particularly if the institution offers child development courses. Learning opportunities outside the classroom also exist, including internships with child psychology experts and faculty research programs allowing student participation.

Associate Child Psychology Degree Programs

While students cannot earn a child psychology degree at the associate degree level, those who enroll in general psychology programs gain invaluable knowledge to guide them throughout their education. Students in these programs become introduced to seminal psychological theories, including concepts of developmental psychology. Outside of general education courses, associate programs also equip students with basic knowledge of scientific research methods, personality factors, and the relationship between brain functions and behavior.

While coursework at this level will not qualify graduates to work as child psychologists, it can go a long way toward moving them closer to future aspirations. The following courses provide examples of how students build this foundation.

Developmental Psychology

Students learn about the psychological development of human beings, from birth to late adulthood. This course covers psychological development from the emotional, physical and cognitive perspectives.

Personality

This course covers different theoretical approaches to personality, from classic to contemporary frameworks. Students also learn about research methods related to personality, including how personality is formed and developed in children.

Social Psychology

Students will develop an understanding of how individuals behave as members of groups. Some of the topics covered include conformity, peer pressure, conflict, and aggression.

Abnormal Psychology

Discusses psychological factors, such as mood, anxiety, and personality disorders. Students in this course learn the cultural, psychological and biological factors associated with these disorders, as well as how to identify and treat them.

Counseling Psychology

This class provides a historical perspective of the counseling profession, including key models and theorists. Students also gain insight into the practice of counseling, and the issues counselors face when working with patients.

Bachelor’s Degree Child Psychology Programs

Though child psychology degrees are rare at the bachelor’s level, some schools do make them available. Students undertaking this major learn how children grow physically, emotionally and psychologically in stages of development ranging from birth to adolescence. Coursework includes topics such as childhood disorders, educational psychology, childhood development, and adolescent development.

Some schools also offer psychology bachelor’s degrees focused on child advocacy. These programs allow students to augment their child development courses with classes equipping them to advocate on behalf of children in need. Specific classes include lifespan development and psychology, abnormal psychology, social psychology, and learning and motivation.

What is the difference between a BA and BS in psychology?

The specific requirements differ from school to school, and when an institution offers both types, there tends to be some overlap in curriculum.

A Bachelor of Arts in psychology is generally more focused on liberal arts topics, and students are given more freedom to take electives outside the psychology department. A common requirement for this path is completing a set number of hours studying a foreign language.

A Bachelor of Science in psychology tends to focus heavily on the scientific aspects of the field, requiring students to take advanced math and research-based courses. This curriculum also typically includes more courses from the psychology department, eliminating the opportunity to choose as many electives. BA degrees are generally thought to be beneficial to students focused on patient treatment, while those interested in research will receive better preparation in a BS program.

Master’s in Child Psychology

You Need to Know:

On the master’s level, students can choose between enrolling in a Master’s of Arts (MA) or Master’s of Science (MS) degree, depending on their career goals.

In most cases, programs at this level are general or clinical psychology programs with a concentration in child psychology.

Goals of the Master’s in Child Psychology

When students complete a master’s degree in child psychology, they should be able to:

Understand the unique mental health issues that children and adolescents experience

Have knowledge about how child psychology research is conducted

Recognize the social, physical, and cognitive needs of young people

Gain expertise in how to conduct psychological assessments on children

Understand crisis intervention techniques

Achieve knowledge of how to work with children that have learning, social, and behavioral problems

Possess an understanding of the different stages of childhood development and the psychological problems that may be associated with each one

Child Psychology Master’s Courses

Area Example of Courses
Child Development Theory
Developmental psychology

Covers the stages of human development from the prenatal period to adulthood. Some specific topics studied include the nature-nurture debate, the development of emotions, and social factors that influence childhood development.

Personality theory

Students can expect to study seminal theories about personality, how personality is developed, and the impact of culture on personality

Cognition

This class explains the development of memory, learning, language, and decision making.

Professional Practice
Psychology ethics

Students who enroll in this course learn about the legal and ethical principles that govern professionals in the field. Specific topics include ethical research, the psychology of ethical behavior, and doctor-patient confidentiality.

Cognitive assessments

Topics include how to administer intelligence tests, and score and interpret their results. In addition, students learn about the different kinds of cognitive assessments and when to use them, as well as theories on intelligence.

Crisis intervention

Students in this class gain an understanding of how crisis interventions are conducted, the issues that lead to crisis situations in children and adolescents, and organizations that help children who have suffered from trauma.

Research
Research methods

This course teaches how to conduct psychological research, including how to identify a research problem, gather and analyze data, and report on study findings. In addition, students learn how to evaluate published research.

Doctorate in Child Psychology

The doctoral degree program in child psychology is designed to prepare students to treat children, conduct research, and teach students at the college level. Students who enroll in these programs have generally earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in psychology, and have practical experience in the field through internship programs or participation in research projects.

Goals of the Doctorate in Child Psychology

Students who earn doctoral degrees in child psychology should be able to:

Conduct original, evidence-based research about issues related to children

Teach psychology courses at the college level

Understand advanced theories on child development

Administer different kinds of psychological assessments

Recognize the accepted professional conduct of child psychologists

Create treatment plans for children at different stages of development

Apply psychological theory to the individual therapeutic needs of children

Understand the history of child psychology

Child Psychology Doctoral Courses

Area Example of Courses
Child Development Theory
Infant development

Provides an understanding of infant development from the prenatal stage through the second year of life. Topics include the physical, perceptual, language, and cognitive development of this age group.

Psychology of learning

Covers traditional and current theories of learning, including classical conditioning, perception, and instructional methods.

Social development

This course deals with how children develop in social settings. Specific topics include family dynamics, peer relations, aggression, and prosocial behavior.

Health psychology

Introduces students to theories on the relationship between physical illness and psychological functioning.

Biology and behavior

Students in this class can expect to learn the biological factors that influence behavior. Topics include genetics, psychopharmacology, and neurology.

Professional Practice
Legal issues

Discusses the laws that govern psychologists and the effects they have on a child psychology practice. Topics include risk management and liability.

Diversity in practice

Covers how ethnic, cultural, gender, racial, and sexual orientation differences affect psychology professionals as they treat patients.

Teaching psychology

Students get theoretical information and hands-on experience in teaching.

Psychological interviews

This course covers how professionals in the field perform interviews on children of different ages.

Clinical child psychology practicum

Provides students with practical experience in a clinical child psychology setting. Students receive hands-on training on tasks such as administering assessments and observing behavior during field research.

Research
Statistical methods

Covers topics such as simple and multiple regression, correlation, t-test, and distribution theory.

Data analysis

Provides an understanding of how to look at raw data and make decisions about what it means.

Research design

Explains how to put together a research study, including experimental and quasi-experimental research designs.

Comparison of Child Psychology Degrees

Although the specific requirements of child psychology degree programs differ from school to school, the following is designed to give prospective students an idea of what they can expect.

Degree Completion Time Units Degree Earned Future Career Opportunities Other Requirements
Associate

2 years

60

AS

Students must further their education in order to work in the field

N/A

Bachelor’s

4 years

At least 120

BA, BS

Students must further their education in order to work in the field

May require an internship or participation in a research study

Master’s

2 years

At least 36

MA, MS

Students must further their education in order to work in the field

May require a master’s thesis, comprehensive examination, or internship

Doctorate

6 years

At least 100

PsyD, PhD

Psychology professor, clinical child psychologist, researcher, consultant

May require a dissertation, comprehensive examination, or internship

Child Psychology Certification and Licensure

Child psychologists are not required to earn a professional certification, but it can be useful in finding employment, as well as sharpening their skills. These professionals may receive a certification from the American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (ABCCAP), which requires that applicants complete written and oral examinations, as well as have a few years of professional experience.

While certifications are voluntary, licensure is not. If those who earn child psychology doctorates want to work with children in clinical settings, they must obtain a state license. The requirements for licensure depend on which state a psychologist practices in, but generally they must graduate from an accredited doctoral program and have a minimum amount of professional experience.

Opportunities for Learning Outside the Classroom

In addition to the great deal of grounding gained from undergraduate coursework, students can augment their learning with opportunities outside the classroom. Some of the most effective opportunities are given below.

Internships

Internships are an excellent way to put classroom ideas into real-life perspective and get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a professional psychologist. Whether offered at private companies, health care facilities or government agencies, internships can bring textbook theories to life and help students gain a better understanding of what they’re studying.

Research

Faculty members are frequently engaged in active research and may enlist the help of psychology majors to assist on projects. By participating in research projects, students learn first-hand what it’s like to plan and conduct studies, interpret research findings, and write and publish study results.

Academic Conferences

There are several conferences for the psychology profession where attendees can network and learn about the latest research in the field. Some conferences are sponsored by psychology associations and cater to both veteran practitioners and students, while other events, like the Stanford Undergraduate Psychology Conference and the MSUM Student Academic Conference, are specifically organized for psychology majors.

Professional Associations

Numerous professional associations exist for those in the psychology field, including the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Association for Research in Personality. These organizations give members access to the latest research and news in the field and offer networking opportunities. Students are often allowed to join at reduced membership rates.

Student Clubs

Some schools have clubs allowing both majors and non-majors who demonstrate interest in the field to participate in activities related to psychology. Psychology majors may also be able to join Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology, and participate in career events, workshops and research presentations.

Scholarships for Students in Child Psychology Degree Programs

Paying for higher education can be a challenging proposition no matter what major students pursue. The following financial aid opportunities are specifically for those looking to study psychology and eventually enter the sector of child psychology.