The significance of preschool behaviour problems for adjustment in later life

Barbara Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


‘A child is born into a world of phenomena all equal in their power to enslave. It sniffs, it sucks — it strokes its eyes over the whole uncomfortable range. Suddenly, one strikes. Why? Moments snap together like magnets, forging a chain of shackles. Why? I can trace them. I can even with time pull them apart again. But why at the start they were ever magnetized at all —just those particular moments of experience and no others — I don't know. And nor does anyone else.’
from Equus by Schaffer (1974). Quoted in Chess, S. and Thomas, A. (1984)Origins and Evolution of Behaviour Disorders: from infancy to early adult life. Brunner Mazel, NY. The discussion of the significance of preschool behaviour problems for later adjustment begins by grounding the issue in the wider theoretical framework of developmental psychology. Transactionalismis identified as a global theory which now governs our understanding of developmental processes. It is shown to have a powerful explanatory value in relation to the long‐term effects of early adjustment problems. Longitudinal studies are reviewed and the development, maintenance and conversion of early problems (or indeed their disappearance or moderation) can be identified as transactional processes. The concept of risk and resilience are of central importance; some individuals show ‘competence’ and resist adversity but establishing why is beset with methodological and conceptual problems which may obscure actual vulnerability or misconstrue risk variables. Finally, research is found to be of limited value which does not address and explore the processes and mechanisms underlying resilience. A recent review of the impact of maternal depression on children exemplifies a transactional approach to understanding behavioural problems and also addresses the demand for a description of mechanisms involved. However, the issue of risk remains a major challenge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalEarly Childhood Development and Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1996


  • pre-school children
  • educational psychology
  • behaviour problems


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