This study examined the association between maternal cocaine use and children's emotional regulation. Using a brief separation procedure, we observed 78 18-month-old at-risk children and their mothers from three defined maternal groups: no drug use; no cocaine use but a positive history for alcohol, tobacco, and/or marijuana; and cocaine use with or without alcohol, tobacco, and/or marijuana. Coded videotaped behavior identified three maternal constructs (separation style, physical engagement, and emotional engagement) and three child constructs (negative reactivity to separation, initial regulatory activity, and follow-up positive emotional engagement). Cocaine-using mothers displayed less emotional engagement than other mothers. Children with cocaine-using mothers displayed less negative reactivity and follow-up positive emotional engagement than their counterparts. Child reactivity was connected to maternal drug use, whereas emotional engagement during reunion was linked to birthweight and maternal behavior. Results suggest a possible impairment or restriction of emotional expression and regulation in the face of stress and/or maternal disengagement that is more common among cocaine-exposed children with their mothers.
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