We investigated narratives, symbolic play, and emotions in children who varied in severity of disruptive behavior problems. Children's representations of hypothetical situations of conflict and distress were assessed at 4-5 and 7 years. Behavior problems also were assessed then and again at 9 years. Children's aggressive and caring themes differentiated nonproblem children, children whose problems remained or worsened with age, and those whose problems improved over time. Differences in boys and girls whose problems continued sometimes reflected exaggerations of prototypic gender differences seen across the groups. Boys with problems showed more hostile themes (physical aggression and anger), whereas girls with problems showed more caring (prosocial) themes relative to the other groups. Modulated (verbal) aggression, more common in girls than boys, showed developmentally appropriate increases with age. However, this was true only for children without problems and those whose problems improved. We consider how these findings contribute to an understanding the inner worlds of boys and girls who differ in their early developmental trajectories for behavior problems.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health