Objective: To study the continuity of psychopathology from the age of 3-12 years.
Methods: In a population-based birth cohort, children's emotional and behavioral problems were assessed at age 3 using the Child Behavior Checklist 2-3 (CBCL 2-3), and at age 12 by parents using the CBCL 11-18, and the Youth Self Report (YSR) completed by the children. Behavioral ratings were obtained from 800 subjects at both time points.
Results: externalizing problems at age 3 predicted both externalizing and internalizing problems among both genders in preadolescence. In girls, internalizing behavior at age 3 predicted parent-reported internalizing behavior, and associated negatively with externalizing behavior in self-reports at age 12. Aggressive behavior was found to be remarkably stable, and both aggressive and destructive behavior independently predicted a wide range of later externalizing and internalizing problems. Parent ratings of withdrawal showed stability from early childhood to preadolescence in both genders. Somatic complaints of 3-year-old girls independently predicted both externalizing and internalizing problems.
Conclusions: The results show the complexity of pathways in psychopathology from early childhood to preadolescence. In particular, aggressive and destructive behaviors in very early childhood predict later problems and necessitate early recognition and possible intervention at an early age. An instrument like the CBCL 2-3 is valuable in the early detection of children at risk of long-term problems.