The link between behavioural and cognitive difficulties is well established. However, research is limited on whether persistence and change in behavioural difficulties relates to cognitive outcomes, particularly during preschool.
This study used a large New Zealand birth cohort to investigate how persistence and change in serious behavioural problems from ages 2 to 4.5 years related to measures of cognitive delay at 4.5 years (n = 5885).
Using the Strengths and Difficulties total problems score at each time point, children were categorised as showing no difficulties, improved behaviour, concurrent difficulties, and persistent difficulties. Cognitive measures assessed included receptive language, early literacy ability, and executive control.
The results showed that children with concurrent and persistent behavioural difficulties were at a greater risk of showing delays within specific cognitive domains relative to children with no difficulties and were also more likely to show comorbid delays across multiple cognitive domains.