Preterm children, compared with term children, are at increased risk of emotional and behavioral problems (EB-problems). Prevalences of EB-problems seem to vary with degree of prematurity and age at assessment. We therefore assessed individual stability of EB-problems in preterm compared with term children first before school entry and again 1 year after school entry, and variation in stability within the preterm group.
We used data of 401 early preterm (25–31 weeks’ gestational age), 653 moderately preterm (32–35 weeks’ gestational age), and 389 term children from the Longitudinal Preterm Outcome Project cohort study. We classified EB-problems based on the Child Behavior Checklist at ages 4 and 5; this resulted in 4 categories: consistently normal (2 normal scores), emerging (normal score at age 4 and clinical/subclinical score at age 5), resolving, and persistent EB-problems.
All preterm children had higher rates than term children of persistent (7.2% vs 3.6%), emerging (4.3% vs 2.3%), and resolving (7.5% vs 3.6%) EB-problems. Early preterm children had the highest rates of persistent (8.2%) and emerging (5.2%) problems, and moderately preterm children had the highest rates of resolving problems (8.7%). In both preterm and term children, predictive values of normal scores at age 4 for normal scores at age 5 were ∼96%, and of clinical/subclinical scores at age 4 for clinical/subclinical scores at age 5 were ∼50%, except for early preterm children (60%).
Compared with term children, all preterm children are at risk for persistent and changing EB-problems at school entry; individual stability, however, is difficult to predict based solely on the factor of preterm-birth.