Background: All previous longitudinal community studies assessing the continuity of child behavioral/emotional problems were conducted in developed countries.
Method: Six hundred and one children randomly selected from a Brazilian birth cohort were evaluated for behavioral/emotional problems through mother interview at 4 and 12 years with the same standard procedure - Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL).
Results: CBCL Total Problem score presented a medium stability (r = .42) with externalizing problems showing higher stability and more homotypic continuity than internalizing problems. Of the children presenting deviant scores at the age of 4, only 31% remained deviant at the age of 12 (p < .001). A deviant CBCL Total Problem score at 12 years old was predicted by Rule-Breaking Behavior [OR = 7.46, 95% CI 2.76-20.19] and Social Problems [OR = 3.56, 95% CI 1.36-9.30] scores at 4 years of age. Either Rule-Breaking or Aggressive Behavior - externalizing syndromes - were part of the predictors for the three broad-band CBCL scores and six out of the eight CBCL syndromes.
Conclusions: Behavioral/emotional problems in preschool children persist moderately up to pre-adolescence in a community sample. Externalizing problems at the age of 4 comprise the developmental history of most behavioral/emotional problems at pre-adolescence. Our findings concur with findings from developed countries and are quite similar for continuity, stability and predictability.