School Girl with LaptopInterventions for toddlers could prevent behavior problems in grade school. A University of Michigan (U-M) study evaluated toddlers and found that the children’s behavioral problems, rather than diminishing with age, continued into first grade. The findings emphasize the importance of early childhood interventions for oppositional, attention-deficit, or unemotional behavior.

The researchers evaluated 240 children who were part of the Michigan Longitudinal Study, a study tracking children at risk for behavior problems. They collected data when the children were three years old and again when the children were six years old. Children completed six tasks, which the researchers videotaped and coded. At age three, parents completed questionnaires about their children’s behavior. At age six, the children’s teachers completed similar questionnaires.

Based on the data, the researchers identified three types of early behavioral problems:

  • Oppositional behavior: anger, frustration, and difficulties with emotional regulation.
  • ADHD behavior: problems with focus and attention.
  • Callous and unemotional behavior: low levels of empathy, guilt, and moral regulation of behavior.

The three-year-old children who had the strongest behavior problems were the most likely to have the same problems continue at age six. Teachers were more likely to notice the continued behavior problems of children who had the highest levels of behavioral issues as toddlers.

Preschool is a period of rapid development for children and is an important time for shaping children’s behavior. Other research demonstrates that aggressive adults exhibited behavior problems as children. Early interventions for problem behaviors are important because problem behaviors do not typically disappear on their own.

“The good news is that we know from other work that early interventions are very successful and helpful with early childhood behavior problems. If parents or teachers are concerned about a child’s behavior, they should seek out a mental health provider,” stated study co-author Luke Hyde, assistant professor of psychology at U-M.

This research is published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

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