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What Is the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL)?

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Updated September 30, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) is a common tool for assessing depression in children, as well as other emotional and behavioral problems. The CBCL is used in a variety of settings, such as pediatricians' offices, schools, mental health facilities, private practices, hospitals, and for research.


What Does the CBCL Measure?

The CBCL may be used to assess a wide variety of behaviors and emotions in children, including depression. It is particularly useful when it is unclear what might be causing your child's problem behaviors or symptoms.


Dr. Thomas M. Achenbach developed the CBCL in 1966. He studied common problematic behaviors in children and used his findings to create questions to describe child behaviors. These behaviors are meant to be easily identifiable by parents, caregivers, teachers, etc.

The questions are grouped in to 8 categories, or subscales, which focus on different aspects of behavior:

  1. social withdrawal (ex: not wanting to play with friends anymore)
  2. somatic complaints (ex: unexplained stomach aches)
  3. anxiety/depression
  4. social problems
  5. thought problems
  6. attention problems
  7. delinquent behavior
  8. aggressive behavior


Who Is Tested?

The CBCL is a measurement tool for parents, or other primary caregivers, to report a child's behaviors.

There are two additional related forms of the test -- the Youth Self-Report Form (YSF), for the child to complete herself, and the Teacher Report Form (TRF). The TRF is for a child's teacher to complete, and is especially useful when the concern is stemming from classroom behavior, or as part of an in-school assessment.

Only one form of the test is required for scoring, however the completion of all 3 test versions allows for different perspectives and cross-referencing.

There are two CBCL versions -- one for preschoolers, and one for 4- to 18-year-olds.


What to Expect

The CBCL is a paper and pencil test, which the test-taker completes independently. If there are concerns about reading level or comprehension, the test can be administered by an interviewer.

There are over 100 items on this test, so it may take between 30 minutes and 1 hour to complete.

For each question, the test-taker must select the answer that best describes the frequency of the behavior. Additionally, there are several items in which an explanation of the behavior is required.

Once the test is complete, the person administering it may quickly review it to make sure all of the questions were answered.


Results

Only a professional trained on the test can interpret the results. A raw test score is essentially meaningless. A mental health professional should review the results and explain her findings.

The properties of all versions of the CBCL have been studies to ensure that it is a valid and reliable measure of child's behaviors and emotions.

How to Prepare

Generally, there is no preparation needed for the test. However, if you know that you will be taking the parent version of the test, you may want to think about the specific behaviors in your child that are of concern to you.

Be sure to answer honestly. Indicating that your child may have some negative behaviors or feelings does not mean that you did anything to cause them. Getting an accurate diagnosis for your child is extremely important for her treatment and recovery.

If your child will be taking the exam herself, you can explain to her that there are no right or wrong answers, and that she will not be graded on this test. A child may worry how the results will affect her and her family. Encourage her to be as honest as possible and that she will not get in trouble for any of her answers.

You may consider rewarding or praising your child for completing the test, as it takes a lot of courage, especially for a child, to answer questions honestly about her feelings.

If your child is depressed, or you are concerned about any of her behaviors or feelings, speak to your child's pediatrician or other health care provider. They can accurately diagnose her symptoms and suggest appropriate treatment.


Sources:

Achenbach, T.M. "Child Behavior Checklist/4-18. Manual for the Teacher's Report Form and 1991 Profile." Burlington: University of Vermont, Department of Psychiatry; 1991.

Achenbach, T.M. "Manual for the Child Behavior Checklist/2-3 and 1992 Profile." Burlington: University of Vermont, Department of Psychiatry; 1992.

Robert J. Gregory. Psychological Testing: History, Principles, and Applications, 4th Edition. Boston, MA: Pearson Education Group, Inc.; 2004.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Depression
  4. Who's at Risk?
  5. Age Groups
  6. Child Depression
  7. Diagnosis
  8. Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL)

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