Child Behavior Checklist

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The Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) is a widely used method of identifying problem behavior in children.[1][2] It is one of the most widely-used tools in both research and clinical practice with youths. It has been translated into more than 90 languages, and normative data are available integrating information from multiple societies. Because a core set of the items have been included in every version of the CBCL since the 1980s, it provides a meter stick for measuring whether amounts of behavior problems have changed over time or across societies. This is a helpful complement to other approaches for looking at rates of mental-health issues, as the definitions of disorders have changed repeatedly over the same time frame.

It is a component in the Achenbach System of Empirically Based Assessment developed by Thomas M. Achenbach.

Problems are identified by a respondent who knows the child well, usually a parent or other care giver. Alternative measures are available for teachers (the Teacher's Report Form) and the child (the Youth Self Report, for youths age 11 to 18 years). There are two versions of the checklist for caregivers, depending on the age of the youth. The preschool checklist (CBCL/1½-5) is intended for use with children aged 18 months to 5 years. The school-age version (CBCL/6-18) is for children aged 6 to 18 years.

The first pages record demographic information and ratings of positive behaviors, academic functioning (for the school aged version), and social competence. The last two pages list common behavior problems, each listed as a brief statement about the child's behavior, e.g., Acts too young for his/her age. Responses are recorded on a Likert scale: 0 = Not True, 1 = Somewhat or Sometimes True, 2 = Very True or Often True. The preschool checklist contains 100 problem behavior questions and the school-age checklist contains 118 questions.

The main scoring for the CBCL is based on statistical groupings of sets of behaviors that typically occur together. The original scale used principal components analysis to group the items, and more recent research has used confirmatory factor analysis to test the structure. Similar questions are grouped into a number of syndrome scale scores, e.g., Aggressive behavior, and their scores are summed to produce a raw score for that syndrome. There are two "broad band" scales that combine several of the syndrome scales: Internalizing problems sums the Anxious/depressed, Withdrawn-depressed, and Somatic complaints scores; Externalizing problems combines Rule-breaking and Aggressive behavior. There also is a Total problems score. After 2001, the CBCL also included a set of "DSM-oriented" scales, made of items that a panel of experts picked as matching parts of the diagnostic criteria for DSM-IV disorders. The CBCL also has a few items that only contribute to the Total score, which were considered clinically important even though too rare to lump into the syndrome scales.

The CBCL also uses a normative sample to create standard scores. These compare the raw score to what would be typical compared to responses for youths of the same gender and similar age (the school-aged version splits the age groups into 6-10 years and 11-18 years). The standard scores are scaled so that 50 is average for the youth's age and gender, with a standard deviation of 10 points. Higher scores indicate greater problems. For each syndrome, Internalizing and Externalizing problem scales, and the total score, scores can be interpreted as falling in the normal, borderline, or clinical behavior.


  1. ^ Achenbach, T.M., & Rescorla, L.A. (2000). Manual for the ASEBA Preschool forms and Profiles. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont Department of Psychiatry. ISBN 0-938565-68-0
  2. ^ Achenbach, T.M., & Rescorla, L. A. (2001). Manual for the ASEBA School-Age Forms and Profiles. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, Research Center for Children, Youth, and Families. ISBN 0-938565-73-7

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