Use the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) to assess depression

The Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) is a commonly used tool for evaluating depression and other emotional and behavioral problems in children. CBCL is one of the most widely used measures to assess children’s mood and maladaptive behavior. It is used in various environments, such as pediatrician offices, schools, mental health institutions, private clinics, hospitals, and research institutions.

CBCL measures

CBCL is used to assess children’s various behaviors and emotions, including depression. It is especially useful when it is not clear what may cause a child’s problem behavior or symptoms.

Psychologist Dr. Thomas M. Achenbach developed CBCL in 1966.He studied common problem behaviors in children and used his findings to create a questionnaire to describe and test these behaviors. These behaviors are designed to be easily identified by parents, caregivers, teachers, and others.

These questions are divided into eight categories or subscales, focusing on different aspects of behavior:

  1. Social withdrawal (for example, not wanting to play with friends anymore)
  2. Physical discomfort (for example, unexplained stomach pain)
  3. Anxiety/depression
  4. social problem
  5. Thought problem
  6. Attention problems
  7. Illegal behavior
  8. Aggressive behavior
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These syndrome scales also have two extensive scales. The internalized behavior scale includes anxiety/depression, social withdrawal, and physical complaint scores.The externalization behavior scale includes scores of criminal behavior, social behavior, and social problems.

Who uses CBCL

CBCL is used by qualified mental health professionals to assess children’s behaviors and symptoms.

There are two additional CBCL-related versions for children and their teachers to fill out: Youth Self-Report Form (YSF) and Teacher Report Form (TRF). TRF is especially useful when the problem stems from classroom behavior.

Scoring requires only one form of survey, but completing all three versions allows for different perspectives and cross-references.

There are two versions of CBCL: one for preschoolers and one for teenagers between 6 and 18 years of age.

What to expect

CBCL is an independent survey done with paper and pencil. If there are doubts about reading level or comprehension, the interviewer can conduct an oral investigation. This survey has more than 100 items, so it may take 30 minutes to 1 hour to complete.

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For each question, the investigator must choose the answer that best describes the frequency of behavior. In addition, there are several items that need to explain the behavior. After the investigation is completed, a qualified mental health professional will quickly review it to ensure that all questions have been answered.


A well-trained professional is required to interpret the results. The raw score itself is basically meaningless. The mental health consultant interpreting the results should review and discuss the results.

All versions of CBCL have been studied to ensure that it is an effective and reliable indicator of children’s behavior and emotions.

How to prepare

Generally speaking, CBCL does not require preparation. However, if you know that you will participate in the parental survey, you may need to consider the specific behavior of the child you are concerned about.

Be sure to answer honestly. Showing that your child may have some negative behaviors or feelings does not mean that you did anything that caused them.

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Getting an accurate diagnosis for your child is extremely important for their treatment and recovery.

If your child will participate in the survey on their own, you can explain to the child that there is no right or wrong answer and they will not be graded. Children may worry about how the results will affect them and their families. Encourage your child to be as honest as possible, and make sure to reiterate that your child will not get into trouble with any answers.

You can consider rewarding or praising your child for completing the survey, because it takes a lot of courage to answer questions about feelings honestly, especially for children.

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If your child is depressed, or if you are concerned about any behavior or feelings, please consult your child’s pediatrician or other health care provider. A health professional can accurately diagnose your child’s symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment.