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Early-Life Somatic Complaints

Longitudinal Associations with Maternal and Child Psychopathology

Engel, Melissa L., BA*; Winiarski, Dominika A., PhD; Reidy, Brooke L., MA; Brennan, Patricia A., PhD

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: September 2018 - Volume 39 - Issue 7 - p 573–579
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000590
Original Article
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Objective: Somatic complaints, often associated with concurrent and future internalizing symptoms and disorders in adult samples, were examined longitudinally from preschool to school age in a sample of children at an increased familial risk for psychopathology. The behavioral correlates and sex differences of somatic complaints and the persistence of these complaints across early childhood were examined.

Method: A longitudinal sample of 185 mothers completed a laboratory visit when children were preschool aged and an online follow-up when children were school aged. Mothers were assessed for psychopathology, and mothers and secondary caregivers reported on children's somatic complaints, anxiety, and depression at both time points.

Results: A high rate of child's somatic complaints was noted in this sample, with similar rates in males and females. Regression analyses revealed that somatic complaints at preschool predicted somatic complaints, anxiety, and depression at school age, and sex did not moderate these relationships. Overall, maternal psychopathology predicted somatic complaints, but findings were inconsistent across reporters, time points, and types of maternal psychopathology. Evidence for maternal reporting bias was mixed.

Conclusion: The association between preschool-age somatic complaints and school-age internalizing symptoms suggests the potential utility of early detection and treatment of somatic complaints, particularly for young children at an increased familial risk for developing internalizing disorders. Pediatric primary care is an ideal setting for these early intervention efforts.

*Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN;

Department of Psychiatry, Rush University, Chicago, IL;

Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA.

Address for reprints: Melissa L. Engel, BA, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, 51 E. River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55455; e-mail:

Supported by NIH Grant RC1 MH088609, an NARSAD Independent Investigator Award to P. A. Brennan, and Professional Development Support Funds through Emory University's Laney Graduate School awarded to D. A. Winiarski.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

See the Video Abstract at

Received December 02, 2017

Accepted April 19, 2018

Copyright © 2018 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.