Smoking marijuana during pregnancy can be harmful


Q. My daughter smoked marijuana throughout her pregnancy. Now her son has some problems. She keeps telling me that marijuana has no impact on child development. Is this true?

A. Your daughter should read current information on marijuana and pregnancy. According to many highly regarded research studies, marijuana has some negative effects on the brain development of infants that can continue to present problems throughout their school years.

Information from the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute states that children whose mothers smoked marijuana during pregnancy have “poorer verbal, memory, and reasoning ability; poorer motor skills, and shorter lengths of play; and are more likely to be fearful, impulsive, inattentive, hyperactive, and delinquent.

Additionally, these problems may continue until the child is in the fifth or sixth grade. They may have difficulty with reading and be classified as underachievers. Since these children may have missed much of the information in elementary school, these problems can continue into adolescence and early adulthood creating academic challenges in high school and may prevent them from attempting college.

According to Dr. Ira Chasnoff, writing for “Psychology Today,” long-term studies indicate that children whose mothers have smoked marijuana during pregnancy have more difficulty with executive functioning, which inhibits the ability to plan and follow through with a task or assignment. Children who have problems with executive functioning often have difficulty responding appropriately at home or in the classroom. As they grow older, they may have more problems following directions in the workplace or completing a college education.

Please warn your daughter that smoking marijuana during pregnancy can indeed be harmful. If she plans another pregnancy, she should be marijuana free for at least a month before she attempts to conceive.

Q. I am a first time stay-at-home mom with a 3-year-old. She bites, kicks and has temper tantrums when I try to get her to obey. Should I be worried or is this just a phase?

A. Biting, kicking, and screaming are common reactions in toddlerhood, but most children outgrow these behaviors gradually between the ages of 3 and 5. During toddlerhood children are attempting to develop a sense of autonomy. You’ve probably noticed that she is more likely to have a temper tantrum when you interrupt an activity she is trying to do by herself. If you attempt to do it for her, it may only worsen the situation.

At this age, it is important for your daughter to learn to express anger without losing control. Since she is 3, some of her actions, such as kicking and biting, need to be addressed so that she can learn to self-regulate. When she does something that is beyond the norms of her behavior or causes problems for anyone else, be certain that she is punished. However, for toddlers the punishment should be immediate, brief and appropriately firm. If she is punished too harshly, she may doubt her ability to establish a sense of autonomy.

Children learn to control their behavior by parental example. Even toddlers are sensitive to the sounds of verbal altercations, facial expression and non-verbal behaviors. Studies indicate that children who grow up in a household with frequent family quarrels or abuse are more likely to have problems in emotional and social development. If you are not living with the father of your child, be certain that she does not hear arguments between the two of you. If you are living with her step-father or a partner, be certain that any confrontations are out of your daughter’s hearing range.

If she has not outgrown these habits by the time she reaches pre-school, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician or a child psychologist. You certainly do not want temper tantrums and biting to occur once she is in school.

Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. She currently teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. If you have questions, e-mail them to nancyryburn@gmail.com. They will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.