Finding bipartisan agreement in Washington on almost any issue has become notoriously difficult. One point of rare consensus: The importance of supporting children through education and a full-range of social and psychological services throughout their formative years. There’s been widespread, across-the-aisle acknowledgment that kids deserve a fair shot, and that we have a collective responsibility to foster their social and intellectual development, as well as the emotional and behavioral well-being.
Child psychology is an offshoot of developmental psychology. It sits at the crossroads of nature and nurture where psychological research feeds into social welfare and educational programs for children. Developmental child psychologists take into account all of the various challenges of growing up in a complex world:
- Normative cognitive and behavioral maturation
- Overcoming specific impediments such as autism or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, among others
- The impacts of poverty, neglect, and abuse
Such an influential career calls for specific training. Learn more about developmental child psychology degrees below.
Certificate and non-degree awards in child developmental psychology
Developmental child psychology certificates and awards allow students to become more specialized in the field, though for various reasons. Practicing child psychologists might pursue graduate certificates to enhance their knowledge or meet ongoing licensing requirements. For students who studied general rather than child or developmental psychology, certificates allow them to specialize in the discipline for personal or professional enhancement, or to work towards board certification. While rare, some certificates and non-degree awards are created to give students a metaphorical taste of child psychology without demanding years of study.
The length and curricula of child psychology certificates depend on which aforementioned goal they intend to satisfy. For example, a practicing child psychologist might enroll in a short-term program — five months or so — that focuses on the newest research, theories and methods shaping the field. General psychologists who intend to specialize in the discipline will likely enroll in lengthier programs that emphasize the field’s foundational knowledge without re-hashing more basic psychology concepts. Research child psychology certificate programs carefully to determine which is best for you.
Featured non-degree awards in developmental child psychology
Advanced Study Certificate in Child Developmental Psychology, Central University of New York, Queens College
Queens College’s post-master’s Certificate of Advanced Study in Elementary and Early Childhood Education is a 15-credit program with an emphasis on child development psychology and learning. While the program’s official website notes that the certificate was created for working teachers meeting shifting requirements for teacher certification or graduates of its elementary education master’s program hoping to expand their knowledge base, it is also suitable for developmental child psychologists working with young learners in and out of the classroom. Key topics include childhood psychological development, learning, literacy and languages for minority children. In addition to their educational benefits, Certificates for Advanced Study can enhance candidates’ resumes or apply toward state or professional board continuing education requirements.
- Department: The Department Elementary and Early Childhood Education
- Location: Queens, New York
- Online options: This is a fully campus-based program, but evening courses can make it more accessible to full-time professionals.
Associate degrees in child developmental psychology
Associate degrees are not required of prospective developmental child psychologists, but the two-year programs give them a chance to explore the field without the commitment — or the expense — of a bachelor’s degree. You’ll quickly learn that associate programs in developmental or child psychology are incredibly rare. Fortunately, there are other relevant programs to consider, like psychology, child development and early childhood education. These more accessible majors introduce the fundamental basics of human psychology and development, knowledge that will support child psychology hopefuls in more advanced programs down the line.
There are generally two categories of associate degrees: those that prepare students for four-year degrees, and those that ready them for direct workforce entry. Early childhood education degrees tend to fall into the latter category, giving students the option to work in early education settings, whether to hone experience or to fund future college endeavors. General education requirements may be deemphasized in favor of more vocational training. Associate degrees in psychology, on the other hand, often streamline transfer to a four-year college or university. Graduates can still find relevant careers without any additional training, however. Among them: youth counselor, psychiatric assistant, social services assistant, teaching assistants and preschool educators.
Featured associate developmental child psychology programs
Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Development at Tidewater Community College
Tidewater Community College’s Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Development provides a practical introduction to early childhood learning and development. According to TCC, the program aims to prepare students to offer children from infancy through age 12 and their families the highest possible standard of care and education. Its hands-on approach and built-in observation hours allow students to interact with young children and their parents in an on-site childcare center under the supervision of faculty and professional care providers. The center serves as the region’s lead program for the commonwealth’s early childhood education effort, the Virginia Star Quality Initiative. TCC’s additional associate degree in human services and certificate programs in child development, early childhood instruction and child development are also appropriate options. Graduates are positioned to take advantage of TCC’s guaranteed transfer agreements with institutions like William & Mary, the University of Virginia and James Madison University.
- Department: Social Sciences & Education
- Location: Norfolk, Virginia
- Online Options: Though TCC does not currently offer an online program in childhood development, it does offer a highly relevant online Associate of Science in Social Sciences. This program positions students to take advantage of TCC’s guaranteed transfer agreements
Bachelor’s degrees in child developmental psychology
While future child development psychologists can certainly pursue bachelor’s degrees in psychology, child psychology programs have the advantage of being somewhat more vocationally oriented than a more general degree. It is also, by nature, a cross-disciplinary area of undergraduate study that draws on the research and practices of behavioral sciences such as psychology and sociology; pedagogical approaches in early education; and the biological and physiological realities of human development. According to the World Bank, the goal of child development programs is to “improve young children’s capacity to develop and learn.”
Baccalaureate developmental child psychology programs balance general education and psychology courses with specialized classes like Normative and Atypical Childhood Development, Creativity in Child Development or Children at Risk. Students may also complete some form of supervised internship or practicum in a clinical or classroom setting. Most degrees require four years of full-time study and prepare students for graduate school. Graduates who do not pursue master’s degrees can become teachers, special education teachers and counselors in children’s camps, among other occupations. Note that licensing is typically required for educators.
Featured bachelor’s degrees in developmental child psychology
B.A. in Psychology with a concentration in Child & Adolescent Development at Southern New Hampshire University
There are were likely many reasons U.S. News & World Report named Southern New Hampshire University the nation’s No. 1 most innovative college in 2016, but its unique approach to competency-based and online learning were probably among them. Its online B.A. in Psychology with a concentration in Child & Adolescent Development serves of an excellent example of the latter. Courses give students invaluable insights into childhood growth and development from birth to adolescence, whether they intend to work in private settings, schools, hospitals or clinics. According to SNHU, the B.A. program supports students who intend to enter the workforce directly and those who advance to competitive graduation programs in developmental child psychology or social services.
- Department: School of Arts & Sciences
- Location: Manchester, New Hampshire
- Online Options: Students can attend SNHU’s B.A. in Psychology program completely online, using a hybrid online-onsite format or on campus.
B.A. or B.S. in Child Psychology at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
The University of Minnesota – Twin Cities is widely considered one of the best psychology schools in the country: U.S. News & World Report placed the institution in the top 10 for its psychology and educational psychology programs in 2016. The University’s B.A. and B.S. in child psychology programs focus on the behavioral, cognitive, ethological, genetic, perceptive and social development of children, from the womb to maturity. Note that UM describes its B.S. program as more research-intense, and therefore recommended for students striving for master’s and doctoral developmental child psychology programs. Another reason to consider UM: The U.S. Labor Department projects that demand for psychologists will grow by 18 percent statewide between 2014 and 2024.
- Department: Department of Psychology
- Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Online Options: Both the B.A. and B.S. Child Psychology programs are campus-based, but students may be able to complete some general education and core coursework online.
Master’s degrees in child developmental psychology
Master’s-level child developmental psychology programs reinforce and build upon undergraduate concepts and introduce new ones. They also tend to have a more practical edge. When students study advanced research methods and theories in cognitive childhood development, social psychology and learning, they do so with a mind for real-world application. Common courses include:
- Developmental Psychology
- Cognitive Processes
- Personality Theory
- Research Methods
Master’s degrees in developmental child psychology often require students to complete an internship or capstone research project. Most programs require about two-years of full-time study. Some may be designed specifically for future researchers or clinicians.
According to the American Psychology Association (APA), rising child psychologists must earn doctorates to practice in the field. For this reason, many schools design programs that award master’s and doctoral degrees concurrently. In other words, students who intend to practice child psychology may be able to go directly from undergraduate school to a Ph.D. or Psy.D program. Students seeking terminal master’s degrees, however still have a number of career options, including child counselor, child therapist and school counselor. Verify your state’s licensing and educational requirements before pursuing one of these careers.
Featured master’s degrees in developmental child psychology
M.A. in Developmental Psychology at the University of Maine
The University of Maine’s M.A. in Developmental Psychology program provides advanced training in the social, cognitive and psychobiological development of infants through adolescence, particularly in areas like information processing, play, peer relations, communication and learning. The official program page reports students have several opportunities to participate in individualized study, research and on-site practical, supervised teaching activities. All UM graduate programs boast small class sizes with excellent faculty-to-student ratios. The Psychology Department operates its own laboratory preschool serving children ages three to five and multiple research spaces. Note that the University of Maine also offers a Ph.D. program in developmental psychology
- Department: Psychology Department
- Location: Orono, Maine
- Online Options: Students attending the Master’s in Developmental Psychology must complete all coursework and most practical training requirements on campus.
Doctorates in child developmental psychology
The APA reports that all child and developmental psychologists need doctorates to practice. They must also be licensed in psychology and board-certified in child and adolescent psychology, so doctoral child development programs are generally designed to satisfy associated requirements. Psychology licensing rules vary by state, but usually require candidates to meet set curricular, clinical and examination guidelines. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) oversees board certification and establishes its requirements:
- An accredited doctoral degree
- An internship
- Two years of supervised practices
- The Examination for Board Certification
Doctoral child psychology degrees provide ever more advanced study, intense research, and more substantial internships and capstone research projects, which may or may not be referred to as a thesis. Coursework may include cognitive neuroscience, clinical research and systems classes. Not all doctoral candidates intend to provide any sort of direct-patient care — something schools recognize. The University of Denver, for instance, warns that its clinical child psychology program is not intended for students seeking licensure or certification. These programs may emphasize research rather than clinical practice. Doctoral candidates who do intend to work in a clinical setting, however, should look for accredited programs that meet all state licensing and ABPP certification requirements.
Featured doctorates in developmental child psychology
Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at Duke University
Duke University’s Doctorate in Developmental Psychology continues the institution’s tradition of delivering high-ranking psychology programs. To put this in perspective: U.S. News & World Report named Duke the 9th best psychology school in the world in 2016. Its developmental psychology doctoral program page reports that specialty options include social, cognitive and evolutionary development. Social-emotional-geared courses focus on child-rearing practices, family dynamics, behavior, emotional regulation, language development and gender identity, among other themes, while those focused on cognitive development courses tend to be more research-intense, measuring cognitive function, neural mechanisms, eye-tracking and more. Bio-evolutionary development emphasizes computational neuroscience and behavior. Faculty research areas range from how infants visually parse objects to home adolescents refine their conceptual understanding of science. Duke University also offers a developmental psychology certificate program.
- Department: Department of Psychology & Neuroscience
- Location: Durham, North Carolina
- Online Options: Duke University’s Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology is a campus-based program.
Online child developmental psychology degrees
Online education forever changed the notion of college accessibility — a truth that supported rapid program and enrollment growth over the last decade. As the format becomes more familiar and mainstream, its boundaries expand. In other words, you really can earn a developmental child psychology degree online. Learning management systems, or the virtual classroom, are more advanced and sophisticated, allowing students to practice interpersonal skills through simulations or collaborative tools. Students can present and defend thesis using videoconferencing software.
While these tools can enhance your education, they may not satisfy state or Board-related clinical licensing requirements. That is why online child psychology programs usually allow students to complete approved internship and supervised experiences within their home communities. Online child psychology programs offer the same training as traditional classroom-based courses. In fact, many schools offer both online and campus-based versions of the same programs, which culminate with the very same degrees. Research and evaluate online programs just as carefully as you would any other program, keeping long-term career goals and logistical needs in mind.
Featured online developmental child psychology programs
M.A. in Educational Psychology, Human Development Specialization at Ball State University
Ball State University’s online master’s in educational psychology is an entirely web-based degree program offering a specialization in human development — a solid fit for future developmental child psychologists. Students must complete core courses in educational psychology and in human development, but also select targeted special interest electives in areas like neuropsychology. Ball State reports that the 30-credit master’s degree can be completed in less than a year of full-time study, or about 18 months for part-time study. Ball State’s online learning programs are highly-regarded: in 2016, U.S. News & World Report named its online bachelor degrees among the best in the nation. There is no such ranking for online master’s degrees.
- Department: Educational Psychology
- Location: Muncie, Indiana
- Online Options: Ball State’s M.A. in Educational Psychology, Human Development is a fully online program. The University encourages students seeking doctoral degrees to consider its campus-based M.S.instead.