BACKGROUND: Validated questionnaires help community pediatric services to identify psychosocial problems. Our aim was to assess which of three short questionnaires was most suitable for this identification among pre-school children. METHODS: We included 1,650 children (response 64 %) aged 3-4 years undergoing routine well-child health assessments in 18 services across the Netherlands. Child healthcare professionals (CHPs) interviewed and examined children and parents. Parents were randomized regarding filling out the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) or the KIPPPI, a Dutch-origin questionnaire. In addition, all filled out the Ages and Stages Questionnaires: Social-Emotional (ASQ:SE) and the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). We assessed the internal consistency and validity of each questionnaire, with CBCL and treatment status as criteria, and the degree to which each questionnaire could improve identification based solely on clinical assessment. RESULTS: The internal consistency of the total problems scale of each questionnaire was satisfactory, Cronbach’s alphas varied between 0.75 and 0.98. Only the SDQ discriminated sufficiently between children with and without problems as measured by the CBCL (sensitivity = 0.76 at a cut-off point with specificity = 0.90), in contrast to the other two questionnaires (with sensitivity indices varying between 0.51-0.63). Similar results were found for the treatment status criterion, although sensitivity was lower for all questionnaires. The SDQ seemed to add most to the identification of psychosocial problems by CHPs, but the differences between the SDQ and the ASQ:SE were not statistically significant. CONCLUSIONS: The SDQ is the best tool for the identification of psychosocial problems in pre-school children by community paediatric services.