Premature babies face many struggles, both immediately and long term.

Behavioral Problems in Children Born Prematurely

by Diane Steinbach

Although we like to put a positive spin on our preemie’s arrival, saying things such as, “He is an over-achiever and had to be here early,” or “She just couldn’t wait to get started,” the truth is, your little one's early start may set her back in other ways. You have gotten beyond the immediate health risks premature babies face, and now Junior is 4 or 5 and is using his well-developed lungs to yell at you or throw a tantrum. What happened to your angel?

A study done by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands studied the development of children born prematurely and found that children born just a few weeks ahead of time were twice as likely to suffer from a host of behavioral and emotional problems. Catching the symptoms as soon as possible is the key to addressing the issues and making changes that can help return your child to angel status.


Usually more common among heartbroken teenagers, depression among young children is twice as likely if the child was born prematurely. Symptoms of withdrawal, lethargy and difficulty making friends can all be signs of depression and should never be ignored. Junior may just seem like a “sad sack,” but if he was a preemie, talk to your doctor to see if a physiological reason for your child’s depression can be addressed.


Seen most often in kids with obsessive-compulsive disorders or mild forms of autism, anxiety is another issue children who were born prematurely face. Starting before school age, anxiety can take the form of withdrawal from social opportunities, exhibiting controlling behaviors and the inability to adjust to changes in schedules or routines. Try to explain to a child with anxiety issues that his favorite afternoon cartoon has been canceled and you are in for a difficult day! Counseling and living with routines can help reduce anxiety levels and make living easier for everyone.


Hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattentiveness, all symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are fairly common complaints among children who were born prematurely. The degree of difficulty the children face with the symptoms varies from mild to bouncing-off-the-walls (not officially a medical description), but issues can be controlled through medication and educational interventions.


A tussle over the remote control with his brother probably wouldn’t qualify, but if your child gets into fights at school, is seen as a bully and initiates confrontations for no reason, chances are he has an aggression issue. Aggression that is seen as the overwhelming emotion your child exhibits and that is often an over-reaction to stimuli is significant to note, especially if your child was born prematurely. Aggressive behavior in children is a symptom of many diagnosable disorders, such as attachment disorder and oppositional defiance disorder, and is seen in children with learning difficulties, so eliminating some causes and discussing the behavior with a counselor and a doctor are important. Aggressive behaviors can be modified and controlled through various methods, including behavioral modification and medication.

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