Congrats fellow parents! We have officially survived the first 6 weeks of school. Hopefully everyone is settled into new routines, new teachers, and new friends. Teachers are hard at work with our kids, learning and supporting them in every way they can.
Sometimes that support can mean difficult conversations – including the one some parents dread and others are surprised by, no matter how gently and thoughtfully it is given.
“I’ve noticed your child is still struggling with X. I think it might be a good idea to look into getting feedback from other professionals.”
This is where I come in. I’m a child psychologist.
I have a great job. I get to work with loving, passionate parents and amazing kids who are looking for answers as to why some things are just so hard and what can be done to make things better. Here is thing about my job though. No one wants to have to come into my office – I get that. I’m hoping to help clarify a few things about what child psychologists do (and don’t do) by answering a few common questions that come up in my first meeting with parents.
What is a child psychologist?
A child psychologist has a doctoral (PhD) or professional (PsyD) degree in clinical psychology. They often have received specialized training in working with children, adolescents, and families. Child psychologists evaluate, diagnose and treat a number of emotional, developmental and learning disorders.
Here are some things we don’t do:
- We don’t read minds.
- We don’t prescribe meds.
- We don’t pretend to be the expert on your child – that is you.
- We don’t just sit in large leather recliners and watch your children play with puppets (Usually its small wooden chairs though sometimes puppets are involved).
Why would I go see a child psychologist?
Parents usually come to me when they are concerned about the development of their child. Often a pediatrician or trusted teacher has already been tracking the concerns and have discussed the idea of seeking testing. (Child psychologists can also provide treatment and therapy, but that is for another day.) Most often what I hear from parents are:
- My child has changed from their typical selves. For example, they are more active and disruptive, less interested in friends or activities, are struggling behaving or learning in school, or seem like they are more sad, unsafe, or more angry.
- My child just can’t seem to catch up to others their age. Small concerns parents had when they were younger have become larger and are starting to get in the way of their child learning, making friends, developing independence or staying safe.
What is Developmental and Educational Testing?
I like to think of testing as a check up for your child’s heart, mind, and learning style. It is a chance to take a big step back, learn more about your child, and to make a road map for moving forward.
More formally: It involves a clinical interview (about 45 minutes), a series of one on one standardized evaluations with the child (lasting 2- 4 hours), and a set of parent and teacher forms, culminating in a report with a series of home and school recommendations.
What Happens During Testing?
A child psychologist will first interview the parents to learn more about their concerns and the child’s history. They will usually ask questions about medical history, developmental milestones, and any recent changes in the child’s life. The parents will fill out some forms, and the psychologist may have forms for the child’s teacher or day care provider to complete as well.
Depending on the child’s age and concerns, the child and parent will come for a series of 1 to 2 testing sessions. The child psychologist uses age and grade standardized tests to learn more about the child’s cognitive abilities, academic skills, and social/ emotional skills.
Most young children take frequent breaks, earn stickers and prizes, and play with the psychologist during this period to ensure that the child feels safe and supported.
After the testing, an appointment is made to share the results and to provide recommendations. This may include giving a child a formal diagnosis but it is primarily a conversation about how the child’s unique developmental path and learning style may be resulting in some challenges or misunderstandings, and some recommendations about how to move forward.
Who to contact?
- Call your insurance! Insurance usually covers a portion of testing if you go to an in network provider. Get a list from online or over the phone.
- Ask professionals, such as pediatricians and teachers, and friends whom you trust for recommendations.
- Check out websites for local practices. You can learn a lot about a practice from their website. They often will explain what areas they specialize in, what forms of insurance they take, and how to schedule an appointment. Even if the practice is out of network or does not accept insurance, it may be worth the investment if it is the best fit for your family and timeline.
- TPK! Any questions you have you can bring to your teachers or the administration team. They will support you in any way they can.