Prediction of clinical anxious and depressive problems in mid childhood amongst temperamentally inhibited preschool children: a population study

Jordana K. Bayer*, Luke A. Prendergast, Amy Brown, Lesley Bretherton, Harriet Hiscock, Margaret Nelson-Lowe, Tamsyn Gilbertson, Kate Noone, Natalie Bischof, Cassima Beechey, Fenny Muliadi, Cathrine Mihalopoulos, Ronald M. Rapee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
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Shy/inhibited young children are at risk for internalising difficulties; however, for many, this temperamental style does not result in mental health problems. This study followed a population-based sample of temperamentally inhibited preschool children into mid childhood to explore the aetiology of clinical-level anxious and depressive problems. Amongst inhibited preschool children, we aimed to predict each of clinical child anxiety and depressive problems in mid childhood from a broad range of potential risks (demographics, traumatic events and broader recent stressors, parents’ well-being, and parenting practices). This study is based on data from a wider population trial of Cool Little Kids that recruited a representative sample of inhibited preschool children enrolled in their year before starting school. In 2011–2012, an inhibition screen was universally distributed to parents of children in their year before school (age 4 years) across eight diverse government areas in Melbourne, Australia. Participants were 545 parents of inhibited preschoolers (78% uptake, 545/703) who were followed to mid childhood (three annual waves 2015–2017, age 7–10 years) with 84% retention (456/545). Parents completed questionnaires spanning child ages 4–10 years, along with diagnostic interviews for child anxiety. Children also completed questionnaires in mid childhood. The questionnaires encompassed a variety of potential risks including sociodemographics, traumatic events, recent life stressors, parent wellbeing and parenting practices. In mid childhood, 57% (246/430) of inhibited preschoolers had a clinical level of anxiety problems while 22% (95/432) had depressive problems (by one or more sources). The aetiology analyses highlighted parent distress and parenting practices (overinvolved/protective, harsh discipline) as key predictors of inhibited preschoolers’ internalising problems by mid childhood. Some high-risk families may not have participated. Child depression was not assessed with a diagnostic interview. The measures did not include every possible risk factor. The findings lend support to parenting programs for shy/inhibited young children that aim to prevent the development of anxiety and depression as they grow.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267–281
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number2
Early online date9 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • child
  • temperament
  • internalising problems
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • aetiology


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