Child Behavior Checklist: Rationale, Purpose and Limitations

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Rationale for Use

The belief that “parents must be actively involved in the social development of their children” comes into stark reality when we consider that parental being is always going to shape in the formation of a child’s social perceptions and social skills, whether the parents are conscious of this or not. When a child appears to be exhibiting acceptable social behaviors, parental attention is usually not called by the teacher. But when there is an obvious display of undesirable behavior in school, the cooperation of the parents is sought.

In such situations, one type of assessment test, the Child Behavior Checklist or CBCL, may be utilized. Since age influences social behavior, the CBCL has two versions. The first is for children aged 1.5 to 5 years old, the second is for those aged 6 to 18.

Purpose of the Test

The Child Behavior Checklist, which was created by Thomas Achenbach and Craig Edelbrock, is supposed to obtain information based on the directed observations of parents on their children’s social behaviors and social competencies. The observations of the parents or primary caregiver will be treated and interpreted using the Likert Scale so that problematic behaviors can be defined empirically.

This assessment test can also be used in diagnosing children who suffer from ADD and ADHD. For example, the version of this test that is suited to individuals within the age range of 6 and 18 can measure behaviors that demonstrate hyperactivity, bullying, aggression, defiance, and violence. Such a version of the test is composed of 140 items and divided into several subtests.

Administration of the Test

There are two ways to administer the Child Behavior Checklist: self-administration and interview. The parent or guardian may answer the questions by him/herself or may have the assistance of an interviewer in going through the questions of the test. The assessment test has two sections.

The first section is composed of 20 social competency items. The questions in this first section cover the child’s involvement in sports, organizations, friendships, games, hobbies, chores, and other similar activities. The second section is composed of 120 items that ask about behavioral and emotional problems observed by the parent during the last six months. This test usually lasts between 15 minutes and under an hour.


The Child Behavior Checklist is mainly a diagnostic or evaluative assessment test. It does not offer or suggest methods or theories that will address any observed behavioral problems and social incompetence.


The norms established for this test were based on a sample of 1,753 children spread across 40 states and the District of Columbia. Acceptable criterion validity and good construct validity have been established by several studies. The composition of the sample, based on ethnicity and socioeconomic status, was proportionate to the general US population.

This post is part of the series: Assessment Tests

This is a series of articles about assessment tests

  1. Standardized Tests as a Quality Benchmark for Student Appraisal
  2. Assessment Instruments Commonly Used in Special Education
  3. Assessing Motor Skills in Early Childhood - Using the PDMS
  4. Using the Kaufman Assessment Battery 2nd Edition for Children
  5. The Validity of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale
  6. The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale and Special Needs Students
  7. Using the Child Behavior Checklist