Saturday, 28 October 2017

101 Ways to F*ck Up Your Kid


‘Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child’ is one of the most insidious axioms ever uttered and one that too many parents accept as a universal truth.
Let me be clear; punishment does NOT work.  It never has and never will.  If punishment worked, we would have no need of prisons because we would have all learned to be good citizens at the hand and belt of our parents.
When we inflict corporal punishment on a child one of two things result:

... will feign remorse and find better ways to hide their crimes.  This child will see corporal punishment as frustrated anger from an impotent parent, disconnected from their own transgressions, and will learn to better hide doing what she wants to do despite the wishes of that parent.  Once successful at this tactic, this child will savour the reward of putting one over on her parent, eroding the parent’s authority and their relationship with each instance.

... will develop a paralyzing fear of further punishment and will be unwilling - or unable - to take even healthy risks.  These are the children we see on the edges of playgrounds hesitantly observing the wild play of other children, remaining terrified of joining in for fear of ‘doing something wrong’ and being punished once again.  Timid children who have been traumatized by corporal punishment will develop a subservient alignment with adults, and spend their lives seeking approval of others while harbouring the deep-set belief that they are incompetent or ‘bad’.

Corporal Punishment is the refuge of parents whose frustration has moved into the realm of anger, and who desperately need more tools to parent effectively.  The generational practice of corporal punishment that has been passed down through the ages, thankfully, is diminishing, but far too many people still rely on it; a 2014 USA study indicated that 76% of men and 65% of women believe that children sometimes need “a good hard spanking”.
I once had an acquaintance who justified using corporal punishment on his children by declaring that; “My dad spanked me and I turned out alright.”  I asked him how he knew that?  Then pointed out that he chain-smoked, was divorced, had strained relationships with his grown children, and had lost every job he’d ever had due to his own anger issues.  He fell into introspective silence as he considered this.
Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD of the University of Texas at Austin and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, PhD of the University of Michigan conducted a metastudy on corporal punishment that drew data from over 1,500 papers, covering 50 years of research, and studying over 160,000 children.  The outcome of Gershoff’s and Grogan-Kaylor’s research indicated that children who were spanked had poorer relationships with their parents, lower levels of moral internalization (meaning that they did not learn how to judge right or wrong, but how to avoid getting hit), acted out with aggression with their peers, and had higher rates of adolescent criminal behaviour.
Parents who use corporal punishment also have a higher likelihood of escalating their own behaviour into the realm of child abuse.  Corporal punishment itself is on the leading edge of the child abuse spectrum.
What does work with children (and adults) are natural consequences; naturally occurring results of a poor choice.  Touch a hot stove and you burn your hand.  No one imposed it, no one did it to you, it was the result of your own choice.
The second approach that works nearly as well especially with children old enough to develop theory of mind is applying logical consequences.  If a child is difficult to awaken in the morning for school, the logic would be that they are not getting enough sleep, therefore they need an earlier bedtime.  To spank a child for resisting to arise on time in the morning will be viewed by the child as simple cruelty and will illicit feelings of resentment toward, or fear of the parent.

We often instruct children to ‘use your words’.  Parents should follow their own advice.
Aaron D. McClelland, MPCC-S -

Sunday, 23 July 2017

101 Ways to F*ck Up Your Kid

In my private practice, one of my specialties is working with adolescents who self-injure.  When I ask when they started, they typically reply that they started cutting in their teens.  My next question is; “When you were little - as far back as you can remember - what did your parents do when you were having big feelings; anger; distress; frustration that brought you to tears.”  They all respond with the same thing; “I was sent to my room.”
When I inquire what they did to deal with their emotions alone in their room, they report one or more of the following; pull my hair; bite myself; punch the wall; hit myself in the head; bang my head on the floor or wall.  So, in actuality they began to use self-injury when they were four or five years old to handle emotions that were overwhelming them.  It was only when they discovered razor blades in their teens that their self-injury became sophisticated and attracted their parents’ attention and thus became the “designated client” (aka; “the scapegoat of family dysfunction”)
Children need to be taught how to respond and regulate sometimes overwhelming emotions.  Even as the sophisticated social creatures that we are, we’re not born with innate strategies to handle distress - we need to be taught this skill.
Human beings in our present form have existed for about 150,000 years.  Up until the “Rise of Kings” about 8,000 years ago, we lived in multi-generational, multi-branched families within a greater clan or tribe system that was based on cooperation and caring for all members of the group as a whole.
Children born into that caring social culture had four adult caregivers available to them at any time during the day and night; mother and father, grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings and cousins.  These caregivers would feed, bathe, nurture, and teach each child.  
Between the rise of the Kings and the industrial revolution, the extended family structure children relied on was degraded and stripped away bit by bit by social evolution driven by power, control, and commerce, yet the hardwired need for it still exists in each of us.  Children have an innate need for those caregivers to teach them how to navigate the world and understand their place in it.
Yet a recent study found that due to both parents needing to work to afford a home, long commutes, and other demands on their time, most parents only spend 34 minutes a day with their children.
Children need us to help them learn, not only about the care and feeding of their bodies and how to navigate a complex world, but about their minds and accompanying emotions as well.
When children are overwhelmed by powerful emotions, far too many adults devalue those emotions; the three year old who has a meltdown because her older sister took a bite of toast before her is told not to be silly; the toddler who falls and is hurt and screams because they think they’re going to feel that way forever is told to get over it; the child who has an outburst over one of the thousands of daily frustrations they face in an unfair world is asked if they want “something to cry about”.
Neuroscientist Daniel J Siegel and parenting expert Tina Payne Bryson’s book “The Whole-Brain Child”, lays out 12 strategies to nurture your child’s development to assist them in both regulating emotion and help their brain organize.  I recommend every parent purchase a copy and follow the strategies in it.
When my first granddaughter was a toddler, I watched my son apply some of these principals when his two year old had run from the living room into the kitchen and tripped (over nothing as toddlers are wont to do), falling face first onto the floor.
  1. My son immediately knelt down and stood her back up (get to the child’s level).
  2. Still holding her gently, with empathy he said; “Ow.  You bumped your chin.” (name it to tame it).
  3. He assured her that it would stop hurting and reminded her; “Remember when you fell in the driveway and hurt your hand?  It stopped hurting right?” (remember to remember).
Her tears quickly faded and he took her to sit on his lap at the kitchen table and engaged her with crayons and paper.  The crisis was over and she began to learn how to navigate an emotional crisis.
Children need what we all need; for someone to actively listen to us; to have what we are feeling validated; and to be offered support.  And please understand that validating someone’s emotions does not validate the cause - if someone does something foolish and gets hurt, they don’t need a lecture or to be dismissed for being foolish, they need validation of their pain.
Even though the events that cause our children distress can seem trivial compared to the challenges we face as adults every day, to the child these are new and upsetting occurrences that are sometimes overwhelming for them.  Their feelings need to be validated and they need to be taught how to navigate them by those they love and trust.
Conversely, parents can continue to dismiss their children’s emotions and pay therapists like me hundreds of dollars to untangle the ensuing emotional wreckage.

I - for one - need one more generation of troubled adolescents to see me through to retirement.
Aaron D. McClelland, MPCC-S -

Friday, 24 March 2017


There is a certain look from religious people as they try to imagine the world of an atheist - a world without belief in their god - their awe, their wonder, their glory.  They do not understand how we can live in a universe devoid of magic and superstition, and at times feel pity for those of us who believe only in scientific discovery and the wonder of the natural universe.  Their pity is unwarranted, because ... we are stardust

In the beginning all was chaos; without form; without shape; without direction - a celestial fog of bits of matter, lost in a timeless expanse of space .  Protons, neutrons, and electrons drifted through total darkness and in total darkness found each other and were compelled to begin a universal dance that would be repeated over and over.  These small bits formed the first atoms - the seeds of all things; the stardust that would shape a universe.  The atoms’ small gravity drew them together to form the first molecules of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen ... microscopic structures that would form the building blocks of the universe.  As they collected each other, heat began to form and - from that heat - time began to creep.

Over billions of years, the small collisions and tugs of minute gravity began to draw this stardust into a grand celestial waltz as natural as the dance of the first atoms - circling, forming eddies, flowing, thickening.  Soon, large clusters in the centre of the eddies attracted more and more molecules and compressed itself to form a solid frozen ball with a gravity well that lighter clusters orbited around in the form of dust and gas, repeating the atomic waltz to form the crucible of galaxies and within those, individual solar systems.  Order was forming out of the chaos; the universe began to resolve in form and shape and motion.

As the centres of the clusters attracted more and more mass, their internal pressure and heat grew and time accelerated.  These centres grew more dense and their gravity compressed them further and reached out to stabilized the eddies of matter that swirled around the centres until they too collapsed to form the planets.

Then something wondrous happened; the compression-generated heat within the great masses at the centre of each solar system reached a critical point and the once frozen balls of matter ignited and sent forth a blast of energy that stripped the atmospheres from the nearer planets and warmed those at mid distance.  This was the birth of light, and over millennia was repeated in a cascade across the universe, and that light held within it an infinite rainbow of colour.

Circling each new sun out past its planets in the farthest reaches of its solar maelstrom, frozen flakes of chemical compounds clustered and formed huge ice balls that fell into the gravity well, and as the new suns warmed them and blasted them with photons, the frozen gasses began to boil and mix as the comet drew perilously close, to calve and break into parts on its violent trip around the sun.  Some of the boiling mixtures formed a rudimentary long molecule of deoxyribonucleic acid, which was delivered to the planets as the comet’s broken parts crashed into their surfaces and reshaped their landscapes.  Strings of this DNA withered and died on rocky planets and joined the soup of gas giants, but on planets with liquid water it thrived and began its evolution.

DNA strands found each other and became longer and more complex, and over time they created single cell rudimentary creatures that at first drifted on the tides of the water worlds, then evolved to have the ability to move on their own.

The great comets continued to grow in the outer reaches and continued to fall into the gravity well and continued to impact the planets.  These massive collisions changed the planets, adding to the chemical mix, reshaping the land, and sometimes creating new chaos. These wet planets would never know calm, but the DNA of the small creatures allowed them to evolve to survive in their ever-changing environment.  Some evolved in place to become algae and later plants, others evolved to swim, to reproduce, to forage and hunt, and to change their local environment to suit their needs.

The branches that grew from the original DNA carried in a comet’s frozen core, spread and life became diverse.  Some branches died by either falling behind in their evolutionary journey or were obliterated through disaster, but those that survived grew stronger and more complex.

As the algae and plants left the water, borne on waves pulled by an orbiting moon’s gravity, they clung to rocks and soils and burrowed their roots deep.  Creatures who fed on these plants followed and evolved to be able to move on land, at first only to visit but eventually inhabit.

Life flourished on these water worlds, and flourishing, evolved and diversified.  These life forms faced many challenges; ice ages; floods; fires; extinctions caused by more comet strikes, yet DNA survived and adapted.  Creatures a billion years deep in evolution developed rudimentary brains to ensure the survival of growing bodies - the brainstem to tend the body’s autonomic systems, then Limbic Systems to promote survival of self and survival of species, and ultimately cognitive cability.

In cosmic time, the evolution of these advancing creatures was but a blink of an eye, but they did advance; forming community and social structure, developing curiosity about the world around them - learning how to make and use tools, to harness the elements, to grow food, to alter their environments in order to aid their survival, and to stare at the glittering cosmos of the night sky and wonder at its beauty.  Like the bright objects they observed, they too were composed of stardust and longed to return to it.

The universal waltz will go on.  Things will change.  One by one, the suns will burst forth in bright agony as they die and collapse, becoming matter so dense that it will absorb what light remains.  The universe itself will slow then halt its expansion, then slowly, over billions, perhaps trillions of years will draw back to its original state; a cold, dense ball composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons in a timeless void, held tight in the grip of its own immense gravity.  And when the last molecule shatters to atoms and the last atoms lose their cohesiveness and join all the other matter held in that quivering mass, the tipping point will be reached and it will explode, sending its microscopic parts outward in a chaotic spray of stardust that will begin this miraculous process once again.

This is my awe and wonder and glory, for we are stardust.

Aaron D. McClelland, MPCC-S -

Friday, 21 October 2016

Skin Hunger

Though the term Skin Hunger may illicit images of horror movies, it is a real and growing psychological and physiological phenomenon - the yearning to be touched.  Skin hunger is a relatively new term that has been applied to the emotional response engendered by the loss of touch in our society as we distance ourselves through lifestyle and technology.

The alarming fact is that of the five basic senses, touch is the only one deemed essential to human life.

The importance of touch has been known for decades;
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, Doctors in eastern European orphanages noticed that infants who were not held or touched regularly failed to thrive and many died
  • Premature babies who are laid on mom or dad’s chest with skin-to-skin contact (Kangaroo Care) thrive compared with others who do not receive it
  • These same babies who are on respirators, settle quicker and enter deeper restorative REM sleep while being held by a parent
  • In Harry Harlow’s rhesus monkey experiments in the late 1950s when infant monkeys could choose between a wire-frame ‘surrogate parent’ who provided food, or a terrycloth covered surrogate who provided nothing but texture, the infant monkeys chose to cling to the ‘furred’ surrogate almost exclusively
  • In the animal world, infant litters of pups and kits snuggle together to satisfy their need for touch
  • Human’s experience lower blood pressure, deeper sleep, and live longer even with a pet providing their need for touch

With more North Americans living alone than ever before, polls show that 75% experience Skin Hunger on a daily basis, and 25% said they did not have a single person to share intimate matters with.

The skin is the largest organ of the body and skin-to-skin touch is the first thing we experience immediately after birth and is the foundation of attachment.  Co-author of Hold On To Your Kids, Dr Gordon Neufeld has argued for decades that attachment should be placed at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of need due to the quantifiable evidence that infants lacking the foundation of attachment through touch will refuse to feed, or will not absorb nutrients if they do.

A recent study on Skin Hunger by Kory Floyd Ph.D. of 509 adult subjects, saw results that were consistent and striking;

“People with high levels of skin hunger are disadvantaged in multiple ways compared to those with moderate or low levels.” said Floyd, “Specifically, compared to people with less skin hunger, people who feel more affection-deprived are less happy; more lonely; more likely to experience depression and stress; and - in general - are in worse health.”

“They have less social support and lower relationship satisfaction.” Floyd goes on, “They experience more mood and anxiety disorders, and more secondary immune disorders, and are more likely to have alexithymia, a condition that impairs their ability to express and interpret emotion.”

“Finally, they are more likely to have a preoccupied or fearful avoidant attachment style; they're less likely to form secure attachments with others in their lives.”

Satisfying Skin Hunger has a biochemical benefit; hugs have been shown to increase the production of oxytocin in humans; this is the hormone that positively influences our bonding and nurturing behaviors. In clinical trials, researchers found that individuals receiving oxytocin showed less fatigue, greater dispositional gratitude, and steadier physical functioning than those receiving a placebo.

Skin Hunger also goes far in explaining why so many seek casual sex with strangers; ‘settle’ for a less than ideal life partners; stay in unhealthy relationships; return to abusive relationships, and; seek extra-marital affairs.

Entrepreneurs have recognized people’s growing need for non-sexual skin-on-skin contact and have created agencies such as and that host contact pages for “professional cuddlers” whose fees range from $25 to $100 per hour.  These agencies have strict codes of conduct that include; an expectation of good personal hygiene; minimum dress requirements (tank top and mid-thigh shorts); restrictions against sexual touch, and; no exchange of saliva.

A local search of conservative Summerland, BC - a town of 11,000 people - found 10 registered active professional cuddlers within a 15 minute drive of the town centre.  Skin Hunger is driving the growth of this new niche market as we allow lifestyle and technology to separate us.

“Fortunately, Skin Hunger doesn’t have to be a permanent condition.” Dr Floyd advises, “Each of us has the capacity to get more affection in our lives. In the meantime, put down your cell phone and share an affectionate moment with someone in person. For those with skin hunger, human contact - not the technologically mediated variety - is the cure for what ails.”

Aaron D. McClelland, MPCC-S -

Saturday, 11 June 2016

This Ain't Right, Man

For the past few years, awareness of consent and rape has grown.  Through the evolution from sanitizing it as “non-consensual sex” and “date rape” to calling it what it is; sexual assault, our society is becoming aware of the devastation this violence has on it’s victims and how widespread it is.

Because one in five female college and university students will be raped at some point in their scholastic career, progressive schools now offer workshops and seminars.  At first they were for females and provided tips on how not to be raped. But due to societal backlash against placing the responsibility on the victim, these have evolved into including male and female students and focus on what consent looks like (“an enthusiastic YES”), and that both participants need to check in with each other at each stage of a sexual encounter to ensure consent has not been withdrawn. When these first began, enrollment was sparse, yet as social awareness has grown, these workshops have as well, moving from 45 minutes in small classrooms into two to three hours in auditoriums, with male/female attendance equalizing and much discussion taking place.

Yet some educational centres still engage in victim blaming, such as the Mormon Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, who habitually expel female students who report rapes.  But more and more universities are coming on board.

But I want to address this issue on a psychological and societal level that goes beyond the realm of rape.

In the human brain, there are three areas which host mirror neurons.  These neurons react when we observe the behaviour of another living being in our presence.  These are the neurons that alert our genetic programming for empathy.  When we observe another person (or animal) in distress, our mirror neurons notice, and though we don’t feel exactly what the other person is feeling, we feel a strong pull of empathy and an urge to help them.

I’m a big Mixed Martial Arts fan.  The whole purpose of MMA is to dominate one’s opponent either through devastating kicks, punches, elbows, submission holds that can dislocate joints, or chokes that can render a person unconscious.  What I find fascinating is that at a large MMA event, 20,000 to 60,000 people are there to see those very devastating actions, yet when they happen, people gasp, flinch, or cry out because the person who that just happened to is hurt.  Their mirror neurons fire bright and the crowd feels that strong pull of empathy for the vanquished.

So why is it that some drunk male university students, who see an unconscious female, bypass their mirror neurons and see it as an opportunity to rape her?

The irony is that those in the Bondage/Domination, Sado/Masochist (BDSM) community who partner with people to engage in sometimes brutal forms of sex have been using “safe words” for decades - a prearranged word that the submissive partner can utter, that the dominant partner will respect immediately.  They will release their partner and begin after-care to calm and relieve their partner’s distress, and let them know they are safe.

Years ago, while working as a security supervisor in Vancouver, I was visiting our guard at Queen Elizabeth park (aka “Little Mountain”).  As we were checking in, two full-patch bikers rode up the hill to the upper parking lot.  One of the bikers had a female passenger who almost fell off his bike as they rounded the last curve.

The guard and I walked up into the parking area and saw that the bikers had ridden up onto the grass and the female was lying on her back, the bikers standing over her.  As we approached, the female - who was very intoxicated and barely conscious - was reaching up, inviting both bikers to have sex with her.  I overheard one of the bikers say to his brother; “This ain’t right, man.”  The other agreed.

The bikers saw us approach and one noticed the portable radio on my belt.  “Can you call for an ambulance?” he asked, “I think she needs to go to the hospital.”

I radioed our Dispatch and they called 911 for us (I specified an ambulance and not the police as both bikers had been drinking as well).  As we were waiting, the female started vomiting and choking, and one of the bikers rolled her into the recovery position, rubbed her back and even held her hair as she vomited.

It turned out that the female was unknown to these men - they had picked her up in a bar - and despite their intention to have sex with her, they cared about and for her.  They knew she was in no state to give proper consent for sex, and suspected she was approaching medical distress.

Shortly after the ambulance arrived, the female stopped breathing and the paramedics had to intubate her and use a breathing bag.  If the bikers hadn’t felt empathy for her and acted on it, this female may have died.

My big question is; Why is it that Doms in the BDSM community or two bad-ass 1% full-patch bikers respond with empathy when they see a passed out female and ensure she gets medical attention, but a bright university athlete decides to rape her instead?

Has two decades of “rape culture” in rap music, online homemade porn videos featuring men dominating and abusing women, and examples by a few professional athletes turned some young men away from their natural empathy?

I wish I had the answers.

But I do know one thing that we should all be alarmed by …

Mirror neurons, empathy, and our entire Limbic system are all part of our survival system - survival of self and survival of species.  As Dr Bruce Perry said in one of his books; “We are born for love”.  We are hardwired to care about and care for each other.  What is happening to our society through rapes, murders, assaults, mass shootings, and religion-driven violence is evidence that there is a growing number of people who have lost touch with that survival system.

We need to teach our children from birth that caring for others is our most important duty as human beings.  Men need to intervene when other men treat or talk about women as objects.  We all need to stand up against any form of bigotry, be it race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, and we need to do it loudly and often.

Without empathy, without caring about and caring for each other we are done as a species.  To sit passively by while this trend continues, well …

“This ain’t right, man”.

Aaron D. McClelland, MPCC -