Reference Work Entry

Handbook of Clinical Psychology Competencies

pp 309-340

Behavioral Assessment with Children

  • Kathryn L. HumphreysAffiliated withUniversity of California-Los Angeles
  • , Brian A. FeinsteinAffiliated withBoston Healthcare System
  • , Brian P. MarxAffiliated withVA Boston Healthcare System


Behavioral assessment, as opposed to traditional assessment, emphasizes the antecedents and consequences of behavior. The primary goal of behavioral assessment is to operationalize behavioral excesses and deficits, such that the situations or events that precipitate the event and the responses to the event are reframed as causes and reinforcers of problem behaviors. The information obtained via behavioral assessment can be used to create interventions that aim to alter those problem behaviors through the use of the environment. Although behavioral assessment was initially concerned with strictly observable behaviors, the domain has expanded to include beliefs, attitudes, and emotional states. Interest in behavioral assessment with children specifically has increased dramatically since Ollendick and Hersen (1984) published the first text devoted to this topic. The use of behavioral assessment with children poses new challenges to clinicians who are accustomed to working with adult clients. This chapter intends to explain and provide specific examples of various behavioral assessment techniques that can be implemented with children, while emphasizing the unique challenges that present when working with such clients. The first half of this chapter is devoted to basic behavioral assessment competencies (e.g., behavioral interviewing, direct observation) that all clinicians who work with children should be familiar with and comfortable using. The second half of this chapter focuses on advanced behavioral assessment techniques (e.g., peer sociometry, psychophysiological assessment) that are likely to require additional, specialized training. It is our hope that this chapter will help clinicians who encounter child populations in their practice by refreshing their knowledge of basic behavioral assessment competencies and introducing more advanced behavioral assessment techniques that can be implemented with children.