The Pros and Cons of Child Behavior Checklists

Child assessments evaluate development and progress by gathering objective information. Checklists provide a tool for recording a child's behavior to assess potential problems or to develop a behavior management plan. Understanding the benefits and limitations of a child behavior checklist helps you determine if the evaluation tool is appropriate for your needs.

Pro: Versatility

Checklists offer a simple evaluation method that you can use repeatedly. When you make your own behavior checklist, you can customize the list to meet your specific objectives for the evaluation. You can adapt the original checklist as your evaluation needs change. This type of assessment is usually quick to complete since you only need to check whether or not the child exhibits the behavior.

Pro: Specific Traits

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A checklist allows you to evaluate specific traits in a child's behavior. Instead of general observation, you can drill down to capture exactly what the child is doing and focus on those particular behaviors or traits for a targeted assessment. The detailed traits give the checklist evaluation a particular direction, allowing you to focus on one or more narrow aspects of behavior. Because the checklist spells out exactly what you're looking for, many different people can administer the evaluation with similar results.

Con: Narrow View

While the specific behaviors listed on the checklist give the evaluation focus, they can also limit the assessment scope, giving an incomplete picture of the child's behavior. A checklist leaves no gray area for kids who might exhibit a particular behavior only in certain situations or only partially demonstrate each trait. The checklist doesn't take into consideration things like the amount of time it takes to exhibit the behavior, events leading up to a particular behavior or environmental factors that could affect how the child acts.

Con: Lack of Details

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While specific in the traits a checklist evaluates, this assessment method doesn't provide supporting evidence and details about the specific trait. In a checklist, you simply check whether or not the child exhibits each behavior on the list. The evaluation generally does not include specific descriptions of behaviors or anecdotal records of specific incidents. If another adult reviews the completed checklist, he gets an idea of what the child can do, but he won't get a sense of what causes those behaviors or actions.