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The Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist

Last Updated: Aug 16, 2013 | By Ed Donner


Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist evaluates a variety of childhood problems. Photo Credit child image by Cora Reed from <a

Psychologist Thomas Achenbach developed a series of questionnaires that evaluate childrens

behavioral and emotional functioning, social problems and competencies. The most commonly used
questionnaire, the Child Behavior Check List, CBCL, is used for children from ages six to 18.
Teachers or parents rate the child, or the child rates himself, and several standardized scores are
calculated that identify if the child manifests clinically significant problems. Versions of the CBCL are
also available for children ages 1.5 to five years, for youth between the ages of 11 and 18 and for
young adults ages 18 to 30. The varied forms of these questionnaires list 100 to 113 problem

The CBCL and its variants are widely used around the world for clinical and research purposes and have been
translated into over 75 languages. They have been used in over 6,000 professional publications and are
considered to be valid and reliable indicators of childrens behavioral and emotional functioning. One of the
useful features of the CBCL questionnaires and their scoring system is they allow for the comparison of ratings
by different observers, such as mother, father, teacher and child.

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Internalizing Behavior Checklist for Children

Internalizing Behavior
Just under one-third of the CBCL questions evaluate internalizing behavior: behaviors where children direct
emotions and feelings inward. Three kinds of internalizing behaviors measured by the CBCL include somatic
complaints, anxious/depressed behavior and withdrawn behavior. Somatic problems include tired, aches, nausea,

vomiting, headaches, dizziness and complaints about skin, stomach or eye problems. Children with significant
medical issues, including for example, lung disease, tend to score high on the internalizing subscale and
particularly on the somatic problems subscale of the CBCL, reports PsychosomaticMedicine.org. Withdrawn
behaviors are addressed by questions regarding social withdrawal, shyness, staring, sulking and sadness.
Problems with anxiety/depression are identified by questions regarding crying, fear, loneliness, nervousness,
worthlessness, suspiciousness, guilt, fear and worries. Children who obtain clinically high scores on the
anxious/depressed scale are likely to have depression or anxiety disorders, notes the Archives of Disease in

Externalizing Behavior
Some children tend to direct emotional problems outward into aggressive or delinquent behavior. These are
considered externalizing behaviors. Delinquent externalizing behaviors assessed by the CBCL include cheating,
lying, setting fires, swearing, truancy, stealing and vandalism. The CBCL assesses several types of aggressive
behaviors, including bragging, arguing, screaming, showing off, attention-seeking, teasing, being demanding,
threatening behavior and displaying a temper. Children who obtain high scores on the externalizing behavior
subscale of the CBCL tend to be diagnosed with conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder as defined in
the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-IV.

Social, Attention and Thought Problems

Achenbachs CBCL also assesses social, thought and attention problems. Social problems include acting young,
being clingy, not getting along with peers, clumsiness and preferring to play with younger children. Thought
problems include seeing or hearing things, repeating acts and strange ideas and behavior. Children displaying
these problems may have thought disorders such as schizophrenia or may have obsessive compulsive disorder.
The CBCL assesses attention problems potentially indicative of the DSM-IV diagnosis of attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder, including concentration difficulties, problems sitting still, impulsivity, day dreaming,
nervousness and poor performance in school.

Additional Problem Behaviors

The CBCL also assesses several other behavioral problems, such as nightmares, sleep problems, eating
problems, accidents and talking about suicide. Additional problems assessed include nail-biting, whining,
speech problems, sexual problems, picking at skin and more. These behavioral problems may not indicate any
specific diagnosis but are worthy treatment problems and can be symptomatic of a variety of psychiatric,
behavioral or emotional maladies, including developmental or emotional disorders.

Although considered useful as a screening and research tool, the CBCL does not substitute for a proper
diagnosis by a trained clinician.