Pre-school children with and without developmental delay: behaviour problems and parenting stress over time


Professor Bruce L. Baker, Department of Psychology, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA (e-mail:


Background  Children with intellectual disability are at heightened risk for behaviour problems and diagnosed mental disorder.

Methods  The present authors studied the early manifestation and continuity of problem behaviours in 205 pre-school children with and without developmental delays.

Results  Behaviour problems were quite stable over the year from age 36–48 months. Children with developmental delays were rated higher on behaviour problems than their non-delayed peers, and were three times as likely to score in the clinical range. Mothers and fathers showed high agreement in their rating of child problems, especially in the delayed group. Parenting stress was also higher in the delayed group, but was related to the extent of behaviour problems rather than to the child's developmental delay.

Conclusions  Over time, a transactional model fit the relationship between parenting stress and behaviour problems: high parenting stress contributed to a worsening in child behaviour problems over time, and high child behaviour problems contributed to a worsening in parenting stress. Findings for mothers and fathers were quite similar.