Survey helps tell difference in expectable, worrisome behavior in children

Researchers said that reviewing behavior patterns is more valuable than looking for specific markers or individual acts.

By Stephen Feller

EVANSTON, Ill., Aug. 3 (UPI) -- A survey of preschool-age children's behavior, done regularly, can predict whether children will have irritability or behavioral problems, according to a new study.

Researchers in the study, published in Child and Adolescent Psychology, said that looking at patterns of behavior, rather than looking for a series of specific markers, shows better what children are inclined to do.


"Basically, we are generating a science of when to worry in early childhood, a kind of behavioral precision medicine for preschoolers," said Dr. Lauren Wakschlag, a professor in the Department of Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, in a press release. "By combining this dimensional approach with consideration of other key factors that influence the likelihood that high early irritability will result in mental health problems, our goal is to provide a clinical-decision making roadmap for pediatricians, teachers and mental health professionals caring for young kids."

The researchers gave the Temper Loss scale of the Multidimensional Assessment Profile of Disruptive Behavior, or MAP-DB, to the mothers of 497 children, all around 4 years old. The survey rated children's behavior, from typical tantrums to destructive tantrums and intense angry moods, in a spectrum.


The children were followed by researchers for about 16 months. They found that preschoolers with elevated Temper Loss scale scores showed substantially increased risk of developing oppositional defiant disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and depression.

"The wait and see approach says we should wait until children are in first grade to identify problems, but by this time problems may have spiraled and symptoms may interfere with academic and social growth," said Dr. Ryne Estabrook, an assistant professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "With more accurate identification, we can identify kids much earlier and prevent more serious mental health problems later in life. Early, repeated assessment can help us accomplish that."

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