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Prevalence of behavioural and emotional problems among six-years-old preschool children

Baseline results of a prospective longitudinal study

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To study the prevalence of behavioural and emotional problems and the scope of symptoms in preschool children. The results serve as baseline in a 4-year follow-up study.


The sample consisted of 1887 preschool children who started primary level education within 6 months upon data collection. The sample represented the complete 1-year intake of all first year primary school children in a northern German town of 254,000 residents. The data were collected with standardized parent questionnaires.


The 6-month prevalence of behavioural and emotional symptoms was 12.4%. The overall score for internalizing symptoms (INT) was significantly higher than the score for externalizing symptoms (EXT). The disturbed children had the highest mean scores on the syndrome scale “Anxious or Depressed”.


The level of psychopathology in preschool children was already as high as levels seen elsewhere in school children. The predominant role of INT was unexpected, particularly for boys. The attention of child mental health services need to focus on preschool children as on school children and on INT as much as on EXT, especially in boys.

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Correspondence to Tilman Furniss MD, MPhil, FRCPsych.

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Furniss, T., Beyer, T. & Guggenmos, J. Prevalence of behavioural and emotional problems among six-years-old preschool children. Soc Psychiat Epidemiol 41, 394–399 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-006-0045-3

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Key words

  • epidemiology
  • preschool children
  • child psychiatry
  • internalizing symptoms