More than the terrible twos: The nature and severity of behavior problems in clinic-referred preschool children

Kate Keenan*, Lauren S. Wakschlag

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

260 Scopus citations


The primary goals of this study are to describe the nature and severity of disruptive behavior problems in clinic-referred preschoolers from low- income environments and to explore the validity of DSM-IV disruptive disorders for young children. We examine the relation between DSM-IV symptoms, standardized behavior checklists, and observational ratings as a means of exploring measurement validity in this age group. Seventy-nine clinic-referred preschoolers (ages 2 1/2 through 5 1/2 years) from low-income environments were assessed. To examine whether clinic-referred preschool children have symptoms that are consistent with DSM-IV disruptive behavior disorders, parents were administered a semistructured diagnostic interview, modified for developmentally appropriate usage. In addition, parents completed the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and children's behavior problems were assessed with observational ratings during parent-child interaction. Nearly half of the sample met criteria for conduct disorder, and three quarters met criteria for oppositional defiant disorder. Preliminary evidence for the validity of DSM-IV disruptive disorders in preschool children was demonstrated through association with CBCL scores, behavior ratings, and significant levels of impairment. Future efforts aimed at validating these diagnoses in preschoolers and implications for prevention are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-46
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000


  • DSM-IV
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Early diagnosis
  • Preschool

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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