Social–Emotional Difficulties in Very Preterm and Term 2 Year Olds Predict Specific Social–Emotional Problems at the Age of 5 Years

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Background Very preterm children have increased risk for social–emotional problems. This study examined relationships between early social–emotional difficulties and later social–emotional problems, and whether this differed by group (very preterm or term). Methods Participants were 189 children born less than 30 weeks gestation or less than 1,250 g at birth and 78 term-born children. Parent-report questionnaires were used to assess social–emotional development at 2 (Infant Toddler Social Emotional Assessment) and 5 years of age (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire). Social risk and children’s cognitive development were collected at the age of 5 years. Results Emotional symptoms at the age of 5 years were predicted by internalizing problems at the age of 2 years, conduct problems and hyperactivity/inattention at the age of 5 years were predicted by externalizing problems at the age of 2 years, and peer relationship problems and prosocial behaviors at the age of 5 years were predicted by social–emotional competence at the age of 2 years. Relationships were not moderated by group. Conclusions Implications for early detection of social–emotional problems and provision of targeted interventions are discussed.

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