Dealing with Psychologists – Part 1: Four Aspects of Your Child’s Behavior

Posted September 13th, 2016.

Categories: Child Custody, Custody Tips, Family Law.


During the course of a child custody dispute, the family court may require the child and/or the parents to be examined or evaluated by a mental health expert — usually a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Psychologists are behavioral scientists who generally hold a Ph.D., Psy.D. or Ed.D. degree. Psychiatrists are physicians specializing in mental health and thus hold either an M.D. or D.O. degree.

There are at least one dozen factors a psychologist or psychiatrist will consider in measuring your child’s behavior, personality and mental status. This is the first of three blogs; today, we’ll talk about four of those factors.

APPEARANCE: Doctors may be able to draw some concussions about your child’s need for peer conformity by the way the child dresses and by personal speech patterns and mannerisms. A distracted, aloof child who cannot make eye contact may prompt further inquiry.

COPING MECHANISMS: How does your child handle stressful situations? How does she deal with anxiety? Doctors will be looking for impulsive reactions versus reasoned and thoughtful reactions. Does your child use avoidance techniques to circumvent certain problems or to prevent a discussion on particular subjects?

MOOD OR AFFECT: Custody experts do not necessarily take issue with children who change their moods from time to time or who are occasionally “moody.” But irrational, unpredictable and protracted mood swings may be telltale signs of depression or other problems. Inappropriate or untimely smiling or other facial affects may cause concern.

ORIENTATION AND PERCEPTION. At the most basic level, this refers to the child’s knowledge of time, place and people in her life. But as a doctor digs deeper, he may be exploring how the child perceives and understands certain interpersonal relationships. For younger children, the doctor will be observing sensory perception — for example, what objects or things capture the child’s attention, and whether that attention is appropriate to the stimuli and to the age of the child.

Thinking about these four factors will help you make your own evaluation of your child in the midst of a custody battle and will prepare you for the child’s interview with the experts.

Check out tomorrow’s blog for Part Two — in which we examine four more psychological factors.

[For more reading on this subject, see Simmons, J.E., Psychiatric Examination of Children, Lee & Febiger, Philadelphia, 1969]

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