This study examined the stability of internalizing and externalizing problems from age 1.5 to 6 years, while taking into account developmental changes in the presentation of problems. The study comprised a population-based cohort of 7,206 children (50.4 % boys). At ages 1.5, 3, and 6 years, mothers reported on problem behavior using the Child Behavior Checklist/1.5-5 (CBCL/1.5-5). At each age we performed latent profile analysis on the CBCL/1.5-5 scales. Latent transition analysis (LTA) was applied to study the stability of problem behavior. Profiles of problem behavior varied across ages. At each age, 82–87 % of the children did not have problems whereas approximately 2 % showed a profile of co-occurring internalizing and externalizing problems. This profile was more severe (with higher scores) at 6 years than at earlier ages. A predominantly internalizing profile only emerged at 6 years, while a profile with externalizing problems and emotional reactivity was present at each age. LTA showed that, based on profiles at 1.5 and 3 years, it was difficult to predict the type of profile at 6 years. Children with a profile of co-occurring internalizing and externalizing problems early in life were most likely to show problem behavior at 6 years. This study shows that the presentation of problem behavior changes across the preschool period and that heterotypic continuity of problems is very common among preschoolers. Children with co-occurring internalizing and externalizing problems were most likely to show persisting problems. The use of evidence-based treatment for these young children may prevent psychiatric problems across the life course.

Co-occurrence, Dysregulation, Latent transition analysis, Longitudinal study, Preschool internalizing and externalizing problems, Stability,
Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Generation R Study Group

Basten, M.G.J, Tiemeier, H.W, Althoff, R.R, van de Schoot, A.G.J, Jaddoe, V.W.V, Hofman, A, … van der Ende, J. (2016). The Stability of Problem Behavior Across the Preschool Years: An Empirical Approach in the General Population. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 44(2), 393–404. doi:10.1007/s10802-015-9993-y