What Is Child Psychopathology?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2019
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Child psychopathology is the study of psychiatric disorders of childhood and adolescence. Mental health care providers who work with children specialize in this field so they can offer the best care for their patients. It can also be a subject of interest for social workers, pediatricians, teachers, and other professionals who may need to work with mentally ill children in the course of their careers. Formal education and training are available to provide people with information they can use to apply precepts of child psychopathology to patient care.

There are a number of psychiatric conditions that can manifest in childhood as well as adulthood, for a range of reasons. Some appear to be related to environment; a child who is neglected or abused, for example, can experience psychological complications. Others may be genetic in nature, as seen with children who develop early onset bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, conditions that are normally rare in children.


Researchers in this field look at mood, anxiety, and developmental disorders that can arise in childhood to develop effective diagnostic criteria and treatment recommendations for health care providers. They may also have an interested in determining why such conditions arise. Early screening could provide interventions for children demonstrating early signs of mental health problems to get them prompt and effective treatment. For instance, researchers in child psychopathology note that behaviors like inattention, trouble focusing, or disobedience might not be character flaws, but rather signs of an underlying psychiatric or developmental issue like attention deficit disorder.

Parenting can be an important factor in child psychology, as parents have a profound impact on a child’s environment. Investigation into common psychological issues experienced by children provides more information about the extent of the environment’s influence on a child’s psychological development, and how parents can contribute to healthy growth and development. Factors like school experiences also play a role; child psychopathology includes the study of bullying, both among bullies and victims.

Understanding child psychopathology can help medical providers screen and treat their patients effectively. In complex cases or those where severe, disabling conditions are involved, the patient may need to see a specialist. Some children, for example, become extremely violent and may not be safe in their home environments or schools until their conditions can be effectively managed. They might need to attend schools and facilities designed specifically for children with pervasive and severe mental illness to get treatment.


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