Cocaine exposure and children's self-regulation: Indirect association via maternal harshness

Rina D. Eiden, Pamela Schuetze, Yvette Veira, Elizabeth Cox, Thomas M. Jarrett, Josephine M. Johns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Objectives:This study examined the association between prenatal cocaine exposure and children's self-regulation at 3 years of child age. In addition to direct effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on children's self-regulation, we hypothesized there would be indirect associations between cocaine exposure and self-regulation via higher maternal harshness and poor autonomic regulation in infancy. Methods: The sample consisted of 216 mother-infant dyads recruited at delivery from local area hospitals (116 cocaine-exposed, 100 non-exposed). Infant autonomic regulation was measured at 7months of age during an anger/frustration task, maternal harshness was coded from observations of mother-toddler interactions at 2 years of age, and children's self-regulation was measured at 3years of age using several laboratory paradigms. Results: Contrary to hypotheses, there were no direct associations between maternal cocaine use during pregnancy and children's self-regulation. However, results from testing our conceptual model including the indirect effects via maternal harshness or infant parasympathetic regulation indicated that this model fit the data well, χ2 (23)=34.36, p >0.05, Comparative Fit Index=0.95, RMSEA=0.05. Cocaine using mothers displayed higher intensity of harshness toward their toddlers during lab interactions across a variety of tasks at 2years of age (β =0.23, p <0.05), and higher intensity of harshness at 2 years was predictive of lower self-regulation at 3 years (β= -0.36, p < 0.01). Maternal cocaine use was also predictive of a non-adaptive increase in respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) from baseline to the negative affect task, but RSA change in infancy was not predictive of self-regulation at 3 years. Conclusion: Results are supportive of animal models indicating higher aggression among cocaine treated dams, and indicate that higher maternal harshness among cocaine using mothers is predictive of child self-regulatory outcomes in the preschool period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 31
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Issue numberMAY
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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