Behaviour problems affect up to 20 per cent of children and have major personal, societal and economic consequences. If left untreated, up to half of behaviour problems in preschool children can develop into later mental health problems.
For the study, published in the British Medical Journal, researchers enrolled 300 mothers and their eight-month old babies into the training programme.
The scientists, led by Harriet Hiscock at the Centre for Community Child Health in Parkville, Australia, compared behaviour of the test group over an 18 month period with another set of mothers and children who did not receive any special counselling.
The results showed very little difference between the two groups.
Mothers in the programme were somewhat less abusive and acquired more realistic expectations of how quickly their children would progress, but there was no significant difference is the level of behaviour problems in the children, or in the mental health of the mothers.
“The outcome at two years are insufficient to support widespread introduction of a very early universal programme to prevent behavioural problems in toddlers,” the researchers concluded.