Sunday, January 31, 2010

Discipline For Children 1

Punishment refers to a situation where something painful or unpleasant is presented or something rewarding is removed following a behavior, thereby making that behavior happen less frequently in the future. Discipline, on the other hand, means nothing more than teaching a child a system of practical rules of conduct. Discipline in child rearing must not be confused with punishment. All children have the right to humane and non abusive discipline. Thus while parents must often concern themselves with matters of discipline, punishment should actually be used in the smallest minority of situations.

I have seen well-disciplined classrooms where the primary methods of teaching involved rewarding good behavior and ignoring the bad. The children were diligent in their work and delightfully free and happy in their play. I know parents whose children are a joy to be with, inquisitive, happy and well-behaved. The are also seldom punished. Their parents do, however, eliminate various inappropriate behaviors very skillfully in other ways.

Dr. Tom, 1/31/10

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Psychological Vetting for Public Office Candidates!

Psychological Vetting for Public Office Candidates!

The following quote is from Founder’s Quote Daily sent by the

“In selecting men for office, let principle be your guide. Regard not the particular sect or denomination of the candidate – look to his character….” –Noah Webster, Letters to a Young Gentleman Commencing His Education, 1789


As a practicing psychologist, it is often my duty (and an honor) to evaluate police and fire candidates as to their psychological fitness for duty. Character is very important, but so is the psychological make-up of these men and women in many dimensions.

Is the work of our politicians any less critical to our well-being than that of a police officer, fire fighter or other first responders to emergency situations?

I’ll bet that you can name your own ”rogue’s list” of politicians and they will include both Democrats and Republicans: Public representatives who have lied, cheated, stolen, and publically humiliated their families and the rest of us with their uncontrolled sexual exploits, extramarital pregnancies, and betrayals of their spouses, children and other loved ones. Each example is a deep wound to the viability of our body politic and a hopeful future.

What fool would assume that these misfits would not often betray the best interests of their constituents for their own pleasures and power-gains?

I believe that part of the “vetting process” of candidates for public office must be psychological testing and a clinical interview. Much like the obligatory physical exam administered by physicians, psychological evaluations should be conducted by specially trained Ph.D. psychologists to rule out certain personality disorders and other psychological problems likely to create a hazard to public safety and security.

Why would anyone object? We should insist upon psychological vetting for all candidates for public office.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D. (Dr. Tom), 1/28/10

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Punishment Trap"--Part Two

"Punishment Trap"-Part Two

The following is an example of a punishment trap in action.

A parent who slaps his child for running and yelling will likely stop the running quickly and thereby gain quick relief from the disruptive behavior. This immediate reward for the parent will likely tempt him to hit his child again to stop other irritating misbehaviors. The parent is rewarded for hitting his child and is more likely to hit in the future.

However, children can adapt to (get used to) the pain of being hit. Therefore the more that hitting is used to control behavior, the less effective it becomes. This situation is one in which the force of the hit must be increased to maintain the short-term effectiveness of using pain to control behavior.

This can become a vicious cycle that not only fails to work effectively, but escalates to the point that it causes physical damage to children.

The punishment trap is one way that true child abuse can develop.

When punishment over-used to control the behavior of children they can grow, angry, hateful, vengeful, fearful, anxious and more....all bad things. When the punishment is in the form of physical pain, these kinds of bad things can develop more rapidly.

Look-out for the punishment trap!

Dr. Tom, 1/26/09

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Watch Out For The "Punishment Trap"!

Watch Out For The "Punishment Trap"!

Damaging child-rearing errors are too often made in the name of discipline. Child abuse has reached near epidemic levels in America. Look around in restaurants, markets, recreation areas, and you will see parents trying, sometimes desperately, to control their children by hurting them. I have seen angry parents screaming at their young children, threatening them, hitting them, pinching ears, pulling their hair, jerking their arms and violently shaking their bokies. I shudder to think what must happen in the privacy of these parents homes.

For too many parents, it is easier to scold or hit a child for misbehavior than to define approapriate behaviors and then patiently reward these until they predominate. Since punishment generally produces instant changes in a child's behavior, parents are rewarded for thier abusivce ways and learn to scream, hit, and otherwise mistreat their children more often in the future. This has been called "the punishment trap".

The punishment trap frequently ruins lives.

Look out for the punishment trap! Jump, with both feet, into reinforcing your child's good behaviors.

God Bless,

Dr. Tom, 1/24/10

Monday, January 18, 2010

You May Not Be Paranoid!

You May Not Be Paranoid!

Have you ever had the strange feeling that someone is following you around and watching every thing you do? Well, you may not be paranoid!

If you have children, they are in fact watching your every move...and what is more...they are very likely to imitate your behavior, your moods, and even how you think!

A great deal of high quality research has been done on the phenomenon of Modeling and Imitation, and the results are very clear. Parent's old saying, "Don't do as I do, do as I say", should be thrown out with yesterdays trash.

One of the most important ways in which children learn from others is by watching them, remembering what they do and how they do it (movements, expressions, emotions, what they say and how they say it, etc.).

The list is endless: Children with specific problems very often have parents with the same problems. A few examples of what I am referring to are the following:

* Anger and Aggression
* Temper and Profanity
* Anxiety
* Depression
* Alcohol or Drug Abuse
* Sexual Promiscuity and Infidelity
* School Under Achievement
* Other Irresponsible Behaviors

Of course, there are other causes of these behavior patterns and we have and will continue to talk about them. But, make no mistake about it, for better and worse, our children imitate us and others.

Yes, I said others. This means that we not only should be mindful of our own behaviors around our children, we should also be careful of the behaviors of others that we expose them to. This includes other children and adults in real life and also, the actions that we allow them to be exposed to through the media. Yes, children imitate cartoon characters such as the Simpsons and various celebrities such such as etc., etc., etc..

But the sword cuts both ways. Children will imitate our good behavior as well as our bad behavior----so lets work harder to diminish the bad and show them our best!

Dr. Tom, 1/18/09

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Children Within

The Children Within

So many of my clients are tormented by voices from the past. These people are not psychotics. They are in touch with reality, but with too much of an abusive reality from their early years.

They remember all to clearly the abusive things that parents and significant others have said and done to them. Abusive treatment, criticisms and insults have a disproportional and resonating impact upon how children grow to think about themselves, how they expect others will view them, and how they expect to be treated by others in the future...and most often these expectations are harmful.

An old idea in psychology is that we come to see ourselves through the eyes of others. By extension, we also come to see ourselves on the basis of how others describe us, how they say we look, how they say we think, and how they say we behave. But influences from others are even more subtle than that.

Young children are naturally egocentric. They assume that things occur because of them, or that they are specifically related to them. Also, young children are not able to see the world from the perspective of others.

When a child is treated with neglect or abuse, they naturally think that is is because of something about them. They do not naturally consider that the problem could be a parent who is ill, mentally disturbed, drug or alcohol addicted, or just mean and sadistic.

As a result, children treated in neglectful or abusive ways often come to view themselves as being unlovable, flawed, unworthy, unlovable, and without value. Or, Sometimes they can defend against these bad feelings by putting up the defence of narcissism (I am perfect and something is wrong with everyone else). Any of this is very destructive to a child's future psychological development.

Of course the truth is that, normally, there was nothing wrong with the child. Rather, something was very bad wrong with the neglectful or abusive parent or significant other.

To children, parents are all powerful and all knowing...they are God-like in stature.
It is natural for the child to assume that the problem lies with themselves, even though it normally does not.

Many years ago I thought that treating "the child within" a person was a bad idea. I have come to know that I was wrong. People who are depressed, anxious, and/or suffer from mood swings and report feelings of low self-esteem have very often learned to think and say very abusive things about themselves, to themselves and to others about themselves.

Their own thoughts and their own voices hurt them very much. The abusive voices and events that they recall, over and over again, continue to hurt them long after they happened.

As the child sees it, "if my parents or loved ones did it, or said it, it must be right and true"! This is the great misunderstanding. Moreover, when the adult has been informed of this misunderstanding but they will not give up that perception, it then becomes a great lie about themselves, or a great self-deceit.

How would you feel if someone you loved and cared about very deeply frequently came to you and told you that you were stupid, dumb, ugly, would never amount to anything, should be ashamed of your self, or can never do anything right, etc.. Do you think this could hurt your self-estee or impair your ability to meet and greet people, and to take chances to become all that you can be?

Abusive treatment by significant others could make you extremely vigilant and distrustful of how others are seeing and thinking about you. It could cause you to negatively interpret the many well-intentioned harmless, but ambiguous, things that people do and say to you.

When our interpretations of life-events are paranoid in nature, it can be that our past abuses at the hands of others have taught us to expect more such treatment in the future. This sets up a vicious cycle in which we participate. When we are anxious, depressed, untrusting, and angry others who we meet, they sense that and withdraw from us. They may even be critical of us. This can then become proof to us of our own basic flawed nature and also that the world is full of bad people.

It is not easy to accept that within all of us are the perceptions and voices of the children that we once were. If we were loved and well treated as children, they will be enjoyable to listen to. If our child selves were abused and neglected the thoughts, perceptions, and voices of 5, 10, or 15 year-olds (frozen in time) will disrupt our peace with very negative and abusive recollections that are transformed by us into devoutly believed current events.

The abused children "that reside in" many adults cannot think like adults. They must be repeatedly and patiently corrected, even lovingly reprimanded if necessary, to stop the negative characterizations of themselves, and by extension, the adults in which they reside.

The adult must teach the children within and themselves, "no--it was not you, it was them!"; "You did not cause them to abuse you, they did bad things to you because of the problems they had!"; "You did not cause the divorce, one or both of them did!"; "You did not run away because you were a bad child, you ran away to escape abuse!"; "You are not a dumb person, your grades got worse because you were depressed and anxious and this normally interferes with learning!"; "You didn't start to use drugs and alcohol because you were a bad person, you did that to medicate your pain and sadness!". "These are mistaken beliefs, but children normally make these mistakes!"

"There was nothing wrong with you, it was them! Don't listen to them, listen to me, you are a good person, you are doing a good job, keep it up and you will be doing even better!"; "Say these things to yourself and listen to yourself, you are telling the truth!"

Of course, this is all easier said than done. But if troubled adults will stop propagandizing themselves about past abuses, and if they will teach "their children within" the correct perceptions of their abusive pasts, the pain and distress can lessen and life can become much more enjoyable.

For those who struggle with such demons from the past,it is important to do these things and also to locate and work with a skilled Cognitive Behavior Therapist to learn many other techniques to help them achieve happier lives.

God Bless,

Dr. Tom, 1/15/09

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Displaced Aggression

Displaced Aggression

We all loose our tempers and that is seldom a good or useful thing to do. Loosing our tempers at people who have done nothing to deserve our wrath is always a bad thing for us to do.

After all, the innocent victim of our angry tirade has no idea why we are angry at them. They did nothing that would justify our anger and so they are mystified, confused, or baffled as to why we would be so upset with them.

This "perfect storm" of psychological trouble is a powerful destructive force within families and other human relationships. It is called displaced aggression.

Displaced aggression occurs when we are stressed, troubled or frustrated by something or someone (work, money, friends, relatives, etc.) and our response is to avoid confronting and dealing with the actual source of the stress, trouble, or frustration. Instead, we find a "safe object", person, or animal to take our anger out on. When we displace our anger or aggression onto some safe and innocent victim, it provides a release for our pent up tension and that can provide a relief for us in the moment. But displaced aggression always hurts the ones we love and care about the most. They are normally our "safe" victims because they love us and are willing to forgive us in time. But displaced aggression is an awful and damnable trap for all involved.

There are huge problems with displaced anger and aggression.

* Children assume that our anger is caused by them...even if it clearly is not.
* Adults can feel guilty, angry, or hurt by our unfair treatment of them.
* Unfair anger or aggression can lead to the loss of love or respect of us.
* Our victims can come to fear and be anxious around us.
* Over time, our innocent victims will withdraw from us and resent us.
* Victims of displaced aggression show many forms of psychological problems.
* Over time, displaced aggression will destroy our friendships and our loving relationships.

The truth is that we are all prone to displacing our anger and aggression onto innocent victims. Our best defense is knowledge of this human frailty and a mindful and strong dedication to avoid these costly mistakes.

When you detect that you are under pressure, stressed, or otherwise upset, simply think about avoiding displaced aggression and its damages and rehearse how you will treat your friends and loved ones kindly, in spite of your troubles.

Often is is very helpful to just tell them that you have had a bad day and that you "are not yourself". Perhaps you can discuss your troubles with them: talking to others about a problem can be very helpful. In any event, it is then your responsibility to do the best you can with your stress...without taking it out on innocent others.

If despite your best efforts, displaced aggression continues to be a problem, I hope you will seek the help of an experienced Psychologist.

God Bless,

Dr. Tom

Monday, January 11, 2010

No Money For Counseling?

No Money For Counseling?

I just located a question posed in response to one of my blogs. The question was to the effect of "what do I do when I need counseling and do not have insurance or money to pay for it?"

I am so sorry that I did not see this question earlier. But most cities have Mental Health Centers (Community Mental Health Centers)that are publically funded. I will admit that I have heard complaints about the services in these centers, but I have also seen many people helped by them. If you do not have insurance or funds to pay for therapy or psychiatric services, I would urge you to seek help at one of the Community Mental Health Centers near you.

If you are a grade school or high school student, talk to a counselor there.

If you are a college student, go to the counseling center on campus.

If you are a veteran you can contact the veterans administration.

Many organizations have sliding fee scales, based upon your financial situation.

Also, If you were to "let your fingers do the walking" and call the local practitioners in your area (psychologists and social workers), you are likely to find a couselor who is willing to take reduced fees and to let you make partial payments on them. Frequently, 4 to 8 sessions can be very helpful and it would be well worth your effort to pursue this course.

I urge those who have psychological, or life coping problems, to make a plan, execute it and get help. Frequently problems do nothing but build or "snowball", until they are dealt with.

If you are destitute, call the department of public welfare for further guidance as to how you can get help to begin to reconstruct your life and gain access to psychological services.

Don't be shy, call around util you find a professional who will help you. Attack your problems. Get it done! Just do it!

God Bless.

Dr. Tom

Back Safe and Sound!

Back Safe and Sound!

It was a wonderful trip with my dear wife, Sally, and our very special old friends.

Transiting the Panama Canal was a stunning experience: a reminder of “Bully Times” for America and the strong Presidential leadership of Teddy Roosevelt. The human sacrifices required to built this canal were unimaginable.

My visits to the countries of Central America brought many conflicted images and feelings. There were marvelous mountainous vistas with lush rain forests mixed with expanses of public domains glistening in the sun with dense fields of plastic bottles and containers of all descriptions, broken chairs and tables, and all manner of refuse in the ditches and on the hillsides.

There were a great many wonderful, kind and courteous people who we met along with a few civilians who were openly carrying AK 47’s. In Acapulco, there were police armed with assault rifles everywhere.

At some of the ship’s landings other citizens aggressively hounded us to buy their products or ride in their cabs–one literally chased me as I tried to politely decline and get away.

I will never forget a bus tour guide to who received a phone call as he guided us, telling him that he a won a trip to the United States as “guide of the year” from his tour company. Near tears, he announced to us that this was one of the greatest days of his life. This man was, in fact, one of the finest guides I had ever seen. As a child in Nicaragua, his parents were targeted during the civil war by the Sandinistas and they fled for their lives to the U.S.. Sometime after the end of the revolution, he returned to Nicaragua as a patriot. His parents had since passed away and he spoke so very lovingly his country, its struggle to develop its resources, and his great hopes for its future. I can only pray for the best for this man and all his fellow citizens.

Beyond the city, in the hills and mountains, are a great many people who scratch out a living by selling the art, artifacts and foods that they make to tourists. There are very small businesses everywhere attached to crudely constructed tin and wooden hovels that are homes. The economy there is socialistic and I can see no other workable option for them at this time. School through college and medicine are free. There were great numbers of adults laying in hammocks or sitting on steps or at tables on dirt side yards in the shade of tropical trees and plants. The cities bustled in contrast to great inactivity in outlying areas where the relative population indolence associated with socialism was plain to see.

In Mexico, my friend Vic and I went skin diving, as we have since adolescence. The Pacific waters were warm and inviting and we saw the familiar sights of reefs and colorful tropical fish along with an unexpected gift from the sea. This “gift” was a blowfish, all puffed-up to about twelve inches in diameter. This dear creature tolerated our gently holding and inspecting him, before we let it go on it slow and wobbly way.

One painful memory will not go away. Now by my computer is a small and darling brightly colored ceramic tropical bird. It is a child’s whistle. While waiting, after a tour to board our ship in Nicaragua, many children were on the dock selling these little tickets in the hot sun. One little unhappy looking sales girl caught my eye and she reminded my of my own little granddaughter. She was perhaps seven years old and brightly attired in native colors and dress. I assumed that her parents had sent her to work on the docks. I felt sad for her and wondered about the future that she would have.

On impulse, I gave her a five dollar bill for one of her little 50 cent whistles and she looked stunned as I smiled, thanked her and walked away. Within a second a boy of about ten years was bumping into me and desperately asking for money…”Please sir, for me, for me”! Stunned, I saw other sales children watching. I said “No, I’m sorry” and I walked away. As I walked, a sickening feeling grew in my stomach. Both the boy, and now I, had been traumatized by my gift to the little girl.

I am still troubled by my not giving some money to this boy, but then there would have been another child begging and still more…but this excuse does not make the thought of my saying “ No” to this boy any easier on me.

I will never forget the sound of the boys voice, “Please sir, for me, for me!”, and I will always feel sad for him and all of the other children.

It felt so good to return to my home in America. Yes, we are in trouble here, and things are far from perfect. But it is still a most wonderful place on earth to live, raise our families and grow old. We must fight the destructive forces of our undoing to keep it that way.

Finally, I love ships and the sea. I hope I never have to fly anywhere ever again.

Dr. Tom