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Review of "Emotional and Behavioral Problems of Young Children"

By Gretchen A. Gimpel and Melissa L. Holland
Guilford, 2003
Review by Gerda Wever-Rabehl, Ph.D. on Mar 1st 2005
Emotional and Behavioral Problems of Young Children

The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem. (Theodore Rubin)

Even though many physicians, parents and early childhood educators might still believe that infants and toddlers are too young to have social and emotional problems, or that they will 'grow out of it', research suggests that identifying infants and toddlers at risk of behavioral, social and emotional problems is crucial. Early recognition can prevent problem behavior from becoming the standard. What's more, considering the strong relationship between childhood social and emotional problems and later delinquency and criminality, early interventions may reduce the staggering social costs associated with criminal behavior.

Research into the prevalence of emotional and behavioral disorders in young children is relatively new, and its development is challenged by the question as to what really constitutes an emotional or behavioral 'problem'. Gimpel and Holland consequently caution against too much faith in statistical figures. Still, recent studies estimate that the prevalence of behavioral and emotional problems in preschool children has increased over the past two decades to more than 10%. This number is considerably higher among preschool and kindergarten children who live in an 'at risk' environment. Gimpel and Holland's text is part of the intervention methodologies whose development has expanded together with the prevalence of problems in young children. Emotional and Behavioral Problems of Young Children addresses early intervention and prevention methods specifically for children in the pre-school and kindergarten age group.

Emotional and Behavioral Problems of Young Children begins with an overview of common problems, which Gimpel and Holland have categorized into internal and external problems, abuse and neglect problems and pervasive developmental disorders (additionally, there is a miscellaneous category). In the second chapter, Gimpel and Holland discuss some of the mental health-screening tools for young children, which have been developed over the past decade. Gimpel and Holland discuss characteristics of standardized social /emotional / behavior screening tools, most of which assess general social and emotional behaviors as well as adaptive abilities and play skills. Gimpel and Holland also discuss qualitative methods, such as interviews with teachers, parents, child, and observation techniques and offer thus an inclusive and comprehensive approach to early intervention.

While Gimpel and Holland note the disagreement and controversy as to how and even whether to diagnose young children, they do not engage in this question. Relying a fair bit on the equally controversial DSM-IV classification of problems, they leave contentious and unsettling questions unanswered, and simply proceed to direct the various intervention strategies described in Chapters 3 through 6 at the set of symptoms displayed by the child. This is perhaps one shortcoming of Emotional and Behavioral Problems of Young Children. The authors positively accept the medical paradigm that having a problem is a 'pathology'. In their unquestioning embrace of dominant ideologies of 'normality' and 'abnormality', they fail to address important issues related to the establishment of pathology, such as the possible effect of diagnosing 'pathology' on the identity formation of the child and the social implications of pathology for the child and its family. And these implications may indeed be largely negative.

Having said that, Gimpel and Holland did not set out to explore philosophical questions about normality but rather, to provide practical and effective information as well as intervention techniques for problems exhibited by pre-schoolers and kindergartners. And they have succeeded in doing just that. The intervention methods they describe are easy to implement for clinicians working with young children in educational and non-educational settings. Additionally, Emotional and Behavioral Problems of Young Children provides parents who are concerned about the emotional or behavioral development of their children with practical, effective and applicable information. While it leaves questions related to the deeper meaning and social construction of emotional and behavioral problems unanswered, Emotional and Behavioral Problems of Young Children is a helpful, practical resource for anybody who works with children in the preschool and kindergarten years.


© 2005 Gerda Wever-Rabehl


Gerda Wever-Rabehl holds a Ph.D from Simon Fraser University, and has published extensively in the areas of social science, philosophy and philosophy of  education.

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