Predictive Behavior: Problems for Kids

Emotional and behavioral problems may be predictable by early check-ups

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Why is it that some children develop emotional or behavioral problems? The answer is complex but new research may help us better predict who will have problems so they can be addressed earlier.

A new study suggests that data from early well-child check-ups may be able to predict which children are likely to develop problems as adolescents.

Specifically language and speech delays predicted emotional problems in girls, and sleep problems predicted behavioral problems in boys.

"Watch for early emotional or behavioral issues - your pediatrician can help"

The study was led by Sijmen Reijneveld, MD, head of the Department of Health Sciences at University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands.

He noted that, in girls, “Speaking little is an early sign of having problems, maybe because these early problems hamper social functioning, leading to emotional problems later on." Reijneveld added that early sleep problems in boys might be due to fears or other emotional problems.

The researchers used data from well-child check-ups from birth until age four. Parents were asked about child’s early developmental habits as well.

To determine adolescent emotional and behavioral problems the 1,816 children filled out the Youth Self-Report at ages 11, 14, and 17. Their parents were asked to fill out the Child Behavior Checklist.

The team found that 8.6 percent of girls and 2.3 percent of boys had emotional problems. These problems were linked to language and speech delays in the early well-child check-ups.

They also found that 8.6 percent of boys and 4.2 percent of girls had behavioral problems which were linked to sleep problems in early childhood.

However, the researchers note that focusing on the child alone is not enough. These problems are also linked to maternal smoking during pregnancy, parental education level, divorce, and single parenting.

“Early diagnosis and treatment results in a much better long term prognosis,” says Mary O’Connor, PhD, professor in the department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Nevertheless, unless the family issues are addressed in context, including early developmental problems in the child, marital and parental stress, alcohol and other drug use, and the need for psychosocial support, working with the child alone will have little long term impact.”

The study was published online April 11th, 2012, in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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Review Date: 
May 9, 2012
Last Updated:
May 9, 2012