Parents whose children are being tracked by the study were asked by researchers from the Institute of Education to rate different aspects of their children's behaviour at age seven, in areas such as hyperactivity, conduct, emotional problems, difficulties with other children and positive behaviour. Researchers then placed each child in one of three categories: normal, borderline, or serious behaviour problems.
The study, which aimed to investigate whether child behaviour can be attributed to 'nature or nurture', found that ten per cent of boys were likely to display serious behaviour problems compared to five per cent of girls. Boys were also much more likely to be hyperactive and have problems relating to children of their own age. Step-children and children with lone parents were also much more likely to exhibit serious behaviour problems, the report said.
Significantly fewer behavioural problems were reported for children living with two working parents, or parents with higher educational qualifications.
Report co-author Professor Ingrid Schoon said, 'In classifying children in this way we were not making a judgement on their mental health. We were trying to establish whether a child was exhibiting the range of responses to be expected at this age or whether their emotional health and wellbeing was under strain.'
She added, 'Early behaviour problems can hold back a child's educational and social development, which can have damaging long-term consequences. Identifying children at greatest risk is therefore an ongoing challenge, especially as there is evidence that targeted parenting programmes not only help parents to improve their relationship with their child but improve their behaviour.'