A study led by Catalan researchers has clearly shown the importance of the first developmental life stages in the development of the symptoms of psychopathological disorders. This research confirms the existence of aggression by pre-school children towards their peers, as well as differences according to age and gender. There is a widespread lack of understanding about this important stage of life, and previous data have shown that 1% of the pre-school age population in Spain already shows symptoms of major depression.
The research project, which is part of a broader study aimed at detecting risk symptoms for the development of pathologies among children between the ages of three and six, has confirmed aggression among pre-school children towards their peers.
The results have been published recently in The Spanish Journal of Psychology, and – as is the case in other European countries – show that this aggression is mostly found in males, and increases with age.
“Aggressive behaviours cannot always be associated with behavioural disorders, but acute and persistent cases are linked to a greater risk of developing a behavioural disorder or violent behaviour,” María Claustre Jané, one of the authors of the study and a researcher at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), tells SINC.
Aggression between peers in Spain had barely been identified previously among pre-school children, and certainly not any possible age or gender biases. The research team used data relating to 1,104 children in rural and urban settings In order to detect the first symptoms of various psychopathological alterations.
The experts interviewed mothers, fathers and teachers in order to assess the risk cases. A second study evaluated the symptoms of the selected children. Physical aggression was the most frequent form of attack, followed by verbal aggression and aggression against objects.
This study has purely preventive applications. “Our aim is for our findings to be applicable in kindergartens, and easily accessible for psychological specialists among teaching staff,” says Jané. “We need to conduct further research to understand these disorders in childhood”.
Prevention is better than cure
Previous studies have concluded that 1% of pre-school children in Spain show symptoms of major depression. The experts agree that better information is needed, to show that the symptoms of major psychopathological disorders can be picked up from the youngest age.
Contrary to belief, the majority of these symptoms start at a very early age. The problem, according to therapists, is the great lack of understanding among the general public about the importance of such symptoms in children, and the significant limitations in detecting them. “If we can do something at this age, it is possible that we could prevent the problem from becoming really established later on,” says Jané.
The authors of the article are now investigating how the symptoms of these disorders present themselves at the earliest ages of childhood, and are adapting the available instruments in order to use them on children at very young ages, given that there are very few diagnostic tools that are of any use in children. “Timely intervention could prevent suffering for the family and the child,” concludes the researcher.
- Edelmira Domènech-Llaberia, M. Claustre Jané, Teresa Corbella, Sergi Ballespí, Mercè Mitjavila y Josepa Canals. Teacher Reports of Peer Aggression in Preschool: its Relationship to DSM-IV Externalizing Symptoms. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 2008; 11 (2): 433-442 [link]
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