What Is Abnormal Child Psychology?

Marlene de Wilde

Abnormal child psychology is the branch of psychology that focuses on children and the maladaptive maturation process that some of them go through. Childhood is a time of immense change, and there are many developmental goals to be reached and passed during this time. Many children adapt and grow to reach physical, intellectual and social-emotional goals that lead them to become normal functioning adults. When these goals are not obtained, however, it can lead to behavioral problems that impact daily life.

While child and adolescent mental health problems have become more prevalent, access to high-quality mental health has not.
While child and adolescent mental health problems have become more prevalent, access to high-quality mental health has not.

The cause of most adult psychopathologies can be traced back to childhood. These causes can have genetic or biological bases but are usually exacerbated by social, cultural and behavioral factors. According to some studies, as many as 15% of children up to the age of 16 suffer from some kind of diagnosable mental disorder, with up to 30% having experienced a psychological disorder at some point. The most common problems for children are anxiety disorders such as phobias, followed by behavioral problems such as aggression.

Treatng abnormal children can be a controversial subject.
Treatng abnormal children can be a controversial subject.

Studies have shown that child and adolescent mental health problems have increased in prevalence, but access to effective, good-quality mental health services is still inadequate. Paradoxically, the field of abnormal child psychology is coming to the fore just as funds for services are being withdrawn in many areas. It is important to treat children and adolescents at risk because the cost to the individual as well as the community can be great.

It used to be that abnormal child psychology was contained within a chapter or two of a hefty tome on abnormal psychology. Since the 1970s, however, more research was been done on child development specifically. Developmental psychology, epidemiology, psychopathology, psychophysiology and genetics are all a part of this relatively new discipline, with empirical studies leading the revolution.

Despite there being many recent breakthroughs in abnormal child psychology, there is still a lot of debate as to what it is exactly. The gathering of statistics is often made difficult by the fact that a child or adolescent who is suffering from a condition may not be aware of it; he may think the way he feels is how everyone feels. Also, while parents may acknowledge that their child has a problem concentrating, they are often reluctant to admit that their child has a learning problem or is prone to substance abuse.

Treating abnormal children can also be a controversial subject. There are many different therapies based on varied psychological theories, each with keen supporters. The use of drugs in the treatment of children with mental or behavioral problems is also a controversial topic with too little research as of yet to back up claims made by either side.

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