Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 209–222 | Cite as

The Nature and Predictors of Undercontrolled and Internalizing Problem Trajectories Across Early Childhood

  • Kristin S. Mathiesen
  • Ann Sanson
  • Mike Stoolmiller
  • Evalill Karevold


Using growth curve modeling, trajectories of undercontrolled (oppositional, irritable, inattentive and overactive behaviors) and internalizing (worried, sad and fearful) problems from 18 months to 4.5 years were studied in a population based sample of 921 Norwegian children. At the population level, undercontrolled problems decreased and internalizing problems increased with increasing age. Child temperament and family factors present at 18 months predicted 43% of the stability and 20% of the linear changes in undercontrolled problems and 30% of the stability and 7% of the linear changes in internalizing problems. Persisting effects of child and family factors from 18 month were found on the two problem dimensions over and above the impact of changes in the same risk factors. Lower initial level of partner support and higher initial level of child emotionality predicted higher slope of undercontrolled problems and higher initial level of family stress predicted higher slope for internalizing problems. As expected, time to time change (t1 to t2 and t2 to t3) in risk factors predicted time to time change in problem scores as well. The study shows the significance of early emerging internalizing and undercontrolled problems, the need to consider their pathways separately from very young ages, lasting effects of early experiences, and the importance of a dynamic approach to the analysis of risk.


Undercontrolled and internalizing problems Temperament Maternal depression Partner support Growth curve modeling 


  1. Achenbach, T. M., Howell, C. T., Quay, H. C., & Conners, C. K. (1991). National survey of problems and competencies among four- to sixteen-year-olds: parents’ reports for normative and clinical samples. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 56, 1–131. doi: 10.2307/1166156.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. A. (2000). Manual for ASEBA preschool forms and profiles. Burlington: University of Vermont, Research Centre for Children, Youth, and Families.Google Scholar
  3. Angold, A., Costello, E. J., & Erkanli, A. (1999). Comorbidity. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 40, 57–87. doi: 10.1017/S0021963098003448.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bates, J. E. (2001). Adjustment style in childhood as a product of parenting and temperament. In T. D. Wachs, & G. A. Kohnstamm (Eds.), Temperament in context (pp. 173–200). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  5. Bates, J. E., & Bayles, K. (1984). Objective and subjective components in mothers’ perceptions of their children from age 6 months to 3 years. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 30, 111–130.Google Scholar
  6. Buss, A. H., & Plomin, R. (1984). Temperament: Early developing personality traits. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  7. Campbell, S. B. (1995). Behavior problems in preschool children: a review of recent research. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 36, 113–149. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.1995.tb01657.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Campbell, S. B., Pierce, E. W., March, C. L., & Ewing, L. J. (1991). Noncompliant behavior, overactivity, and family stress as predictors of negative maternal control in preschool children. Development and Psychopathology, 3, 175–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Campbell, S. B., Pierce, E. W., March, C. L., Ewing, L. J., & Szumowski, E. K. (1994). Hard-to-manage preschool boys: symptomatic behavior across contexts and time. Child Development, 65, 836–851. doi: 10.2307/1131422.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Caspi, A., & Silva, P. A. (1995). Temperamental qualities at age three predict personality traits in young adulthood: longitudinal evidence from a birth cohort. Child Development, 66, 486–498. doi: 10.2307/1131592.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Colder, C. R., Mott, J. A., & Berman, A. S. (2002). The interactive effects of infant activity level and fear on growth trajectories of early childhood behavior problems. Development and Psychopathology, 14, 1–23. doi: 10.1017/S0954579402001013.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cummings, E., & Davies, T. (1994). Maternal depression and child development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 35, 73–112. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.1994.tb01133.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dalgard, O. S., Bjørk, S., & Tambs, K. (1995). Social support, negative life events and mental health. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 166, 29–34.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Davies, P. T., Dumenci, L., & Windle, M. (1999). The interplay between maternal depressive symptoms and marital distress in the prediction of adolescent adjustment. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 238–354. doi: 10.2307/353897.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dawson, G., Ashman, S. B., & Carver, L. J. (2000). The role of early experience in shaping behavioral and brain development and its implications for social policy. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 695–712. doi: 10.1017/S0954579400004089.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Deane, F. P., Leathem, J., & Spicer, J. (1992). Clinical norms, reliability and validity for the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-21. Australian Journal of Psychology, 44, 21–25. doi: 10.1080/00049539208260158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Egger, H. L., & Angold, A. (2006). Common emotional and behavioral disorders in preschool children: presentation, nosology, and epidemiology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 47, 313–337. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2006.01618.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Essex, M. J., Klein, M. H., Cho, E., & Kraemer, H. C. (2003). Exposure to maternal depression and marital conflict: gender differences in children’s later mental health symptoms. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 42, 728–737. doi: 10.1097/01.CHI.0000046849.56865.1D.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gilliom, M., & Shaw, S. S. (2004). Codevelopment of externalizing and internalizing problems in early childhood. Development and Psychopathology, 16, 313–333. doi: 10.1017/S0954579404044530.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hesbacher, P. T., Rickels, K., Morris, R. J., Newman, H., & Rosenfeld, H. (1980). Psychiatric illness in family practice. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 41, 6–10.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Janson, H., & Mathiesen, K. S. (2008) Temperament Profiles From Infancy to Middle Childhood: Development and Associations With Behavior Problems. Developmental Psychology, in press.Google Scholar
  22. Keiley, M. K., Lofthouse, N., Bates, J. E., Dodge, K. A., & Pettit, G. S. (2003). Differential risks of covarying and pure components in mother and teacher reports of externalizing and internalizing behavior across ages 5 to 14. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31, 267–283. doi: 10.1023/A:1023277413027.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Koot, H. M., & Verhulst, F. C. (1992). Prediction of children’s referral to mental health and special education services from earlier adjustment. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 33, 717–729. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.1992.tb00907.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lahey, B. B., Waldman, I. D., & McBurnett, K. (1999). Annotation: the development of antisocial behavior: an integrative causal model. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 40, 669–682. doi: 10.1017/S0021963099004047.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lavigne, J. V., Arend, R., Rosenbaum, D., Binns, H. J., Christoffel, K. K., & Gibbons, R. D. (1998). Psychiatric disorders with onset in the preschool years: stability of diagnoses. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 37, 1246–1254.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Lavigne, J. V., Gibbons, R. D., Christoffel, K. K., Arend, R., Rosenbaum, D., Binns, H. J., et al. (1996). Prevalence rates and correlates of psychiatric disorders among preschool children. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35, 204–214. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199602000-00014.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lemery, K. S., Essex, M. J., & Smider, N. A. (2002). Revealing the relations between temperament and behavior problem symptoms by eliminating measurement confounding: expert ratings and factor analyses. Child Development, 73, 867–882. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00444.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lengua, L. J., West, S. G., & Sandler, I. N. (1998). Temperament as a predictor of symptomatology in children: addressing contamination of measures. Child Development, 69, 164–181. doi: 10.2307/1132078.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Leve, L. D., Kim, H. K., & Pears, K. C. (2005). Childhood temperament and family environment as predictors of internalizing and externalizing trajectories from ages 5 to 17. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 33, 505–520. doi: 10.1007/s10802-005-6734-7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mathiesen, K. S., & Sanson, A. (2000). Dimensions of early childhood behavior problems: stability and predictors of change from 18 to 30 months. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 28, 15–31. doi: 10.1023/A:1005165916906.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mathiesen, K. S., & Tambs, K. (1999). The EAS temperament questionnaire—factor structure, age trends, reliability and stability in a Norwegian sample. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 40, 431–439. doi: 10.1017/S0021963098003680.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mathiesen, K. S., Tambs, K., & Dalgard, O. S. (1999). The influence of social class, strain, and social support on symptoms of anxiety and depression in mothers of toddlers. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 34, 61–72. doi: 10.1007/s001270050113.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McCarty, C. A., & McMahon, R. J. (2003). Mediators of the relation between maternal depressive symptoms and child internalizing and disruptive behavior disorders. Journal of Family Psychology, 17, 545–556. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.17.4.545.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Miner, J. L., & Clarke-Stewart, K. A. (2008). Trajectories of externalizing behavior from age 2 to age 9: relations with gender, temperament, ethnicity, parenting and rater. Developmental Psychology, 3, 771–786. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.44.3.771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (2004). Mplus. Statistical analysis with latent variables. User’s guide. Los Angeles, CA: Muthén and Muthén.Google Scholar
  36. Najman, J. M., Bor, W., Andersen, M. J., O’-Callaghan, M., & Williams, G. M. (2000). Preschool children and behaviour problems: a prospective study. Childhood, 7, 439–466. doi: 10.1177/0907568200007004004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. O’Connor, T. G. (2006). The persisting effects of early experiences on psychological development. In D. Cicchetti, & D. J. Cohen (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology: Risk, disorder and adaption (pp. 202–235, 2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  38. Owens, E. B., & Shaw, D. S. (2003). Predicting growth curves of externalizing behavior across the preschool years. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31, 575–590. doi: 10.1023/A:1026254005632.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Patterson, G. R., & Capaldi, D. M. (1990). A mediational model for boys’ depressed mood. In J. E. Rolf, & A. S. Masten (Eds.), Risk and protective factors in the development of psychopathology (pp. 141–163). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Prior, M., Sanson, A., Smart, D., & Oberklaid, F. (2000). Pathways from infancy to adolescence. Australian Temperament Project 1983–2000. Melbourne, Australia: Australian Institute of Family Studies.Google Scholar
  41. Prior, M., Smart, D., Sanson, A., Pedlow, R., & Oberklaid, F. (1992). Transient versus stable behaviour problems in a normative sample: infancy to school age. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 17, 423–443. doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/17.4.423.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Richman, N., & Graham, P. J. (1971). A behavioural screening questionnaire for use with three-year-old children: preliminary findings. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 12, 5–33. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.1971.tb01047.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Richman, N., Stevenson, , J., & Graham, P. J. (1982). Pre-school to school: A behavioural study. London: Academic.Google Scholar
  44. Rothbart, M. K., & Bates, J. E. (1998). Temperament. In W. Damon (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology, Vol.3. Social, emotional and personality development (pp. 105–176, 5th ed.). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  45. Rothbart, M. K., & Bates, J. E. (2006). Temperament. In W. Damon, R. Lerner, & N. Eisenberg (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology, Vol.3. Social, emotional and personality development(6th ed.). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  46. Rutter, M. (1990). Commentary: some focus and process considerations regarding effects of parental depression on children. Developmental Psychology, 26, 60–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rutter, M. (1997). Comorbidity: concepts, claims and choices. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 7, 265–285. doi: 10.1002/cbm.190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sanson, A., Hemphill, S. A., & Smart, D. (2002). Temperament and social development. In P. K. Smith, & C. H. Hart (Eds.), Blackwell handbook of childhood social development (pp. 97–115). Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  49. Sanson, A., Pedlow, R., Cann, W., Prior, M., & Oberklaid, F. (1996). Shyness ratings: stability and correlates in early childhood. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 19, 705–724. doi: 10.1080/016502596385532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sanson, A., Prior, M., & Kyrios, M. (1990). Contamination of measures in temperament research. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 36, 179–192.Google Scholar
  51. Sanson, A., Smart, D., & Hemphill, S. (2004). Connections between temperament and social development: a review. Social Development, 13, 142–170. doi: 10.1046/j.1467-9507.2004.00261.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Schaffer, J. L., & Graham, J. W. (2002). Missing data: our view of the state of the art. Psychological Methods, 7, 147–177. doi: 10.1037/1082-989X.7.2.147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Schmitz, S., Fulker, D. W., Emde, R. N., & Zahn-Waxler, C. (2001). Early predictors of problem behavior at age four. In R. N. Emde, & J. K. Hewitt (Eds.), Infancy to early childhood: Genetic and environmental influences on developmental change (pp. 329–351). London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Schwartz, C. E., Snidman, N., & Kagan, J. (1999). Adolescent social anxiety as an outcome of inhibited temperament in childhood. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38, 1008–1015.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Smart, D., Sanson, A., & Prior, M. (1996). Connections between reading disability and behaviour problems: testing temporal and causal hypotheses. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 24, 363–383. doi: 10.1007/BF01441636.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sonuga-Barke, E. J., Thompson, M., Stevenson, J., & Viney, D. (1997). Patterns of behaviour problems among preschool children. Psychological Medicine, 27, 909–918. doi: 10.1017/S0033291797005291.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Strohschein, L. A. (2005). Parental divorce and child mental health trajectories. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 67, 1286–1300. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2005.00217.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Tambs, K., & Moum, T. (1993). How well can a few questionnaire items indicate anxiety and depression? Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 87, 364–367. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.1993.tb03388.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Verhulst, F. C., & van der Ende, J. (1995). The eight-year stability of problem behavior in an epidemiological sample. Pediatric Research, 38, 612–617. doi: 10.1203/00006450-199510000-00023.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Winokur, A., Winokur, D. F., Rickels, K., & Cox, D. S. (1984). Symptoms of emotional distress in a family planning service: stability over a four-week period. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 144, 395–399.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristin S. Mathiesen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ann Sanson
    • 3
  • Mike Stoolmiller
    • 4
  • Evalill Karevold
    • 1
  1. 1.Norwegian Institute of Public HealthOsloNorway
  2. 2.Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Eastern and Sothern NorwayOsloNorway
  3. 3.Department of PaediatricsUniversity of MelbourneVictoriaAustralia
  4. 4.MarquetteUSA

Personalised recommendations