Professor Kai von Klitzing, MD, Ph.D.

About the author

Mental Disorders in Early Childhood

About 17% of all children suffer from a mental disorder in early childhood, defined as the period up to the age of 6 years. In children up to age 2, disorders of emotional and motor regulation are common (ca. 7%), as are feeding problems (25%), which persist in 2% of children to meet the diagnostic criteria for a feeding disorder. Reactive attachment disorder, a serious mental illness, has a prevalence of about 1%: it is more common among children in situations of increased risk, e.g., orphanages and foster homes. Preschool children can develop anxiety disorders and depressive disorder, as well as hyperactivity and behavioral disorders (the latter two mainly in boys). Parent training and parent–child psychotherapy have shown to be effective treatments. The diagnostician should act cautiously when assigning psychopathological significance to symptoms arising in early childhood but should still be able to recognize mental disorders early from the way they are embedded in the child’s interactive relationships with parents or significant others, and then to initiate the appropriate treatment.