Abstract Three-year-old Asian children in inner Birmingham were found to have a similar prevalence of behaviour and emotional disturbance to white English children. The Asian children had fewer sleep problems than the white and their mothers had less difficulty in 11 enrolling them. There was a difference in parental attitude to difficult behaviour between the two groups and also several differences in associated social variables. In both groups there was a high level of psychological distress in the mothers of the children with behaviour problems and to a lesser extent the fathers. Implications for service provision are discussed.