Laura is a lovely lady I met while on a work trip. We had been assigned the same house by our host. She was very vocal about her journey of healing. She shared her recovery journey from codependence. When I asked her if she was okay with me using her story in my blogs, she gladly obliged.

Laura had been married for five years. During the time of her marriage, she had taken up the responsibility of caring for her husband as well as that of his family. She met the husband in hospital where she worked at the time. During her routine visits to see her patients, she met this wonderful man who had had an accident and wasn’t able to walk at the time.

She was so pained by the fact that he had no family members coming over to visit him and that after being in hospital for three months, he had lost his job. That was the point of attraction for Laura, she felt that the patient needed her and that if she was in his life, she would help him get well, have someone who would be family in the hospital and also be that someone who would constantly care.

The husband on the other hand felt “saved” from a horrible situation by Laura and thought that the best idea was to engage her right away. This was the beginning of their codependent relationship. Later that year, Laura married the love of her life just after he had learnt to walk.

Before the loss of his job, he cared for his parents and siblings and took care of all their financial burdens. When they got married, Laura took over the burden of caring for the husband and his family. When she felt overburdened by the financial responsibilities, she constantly told herself that if her parents were alive, she would have loved to do the same.

At 16 years old, Laura had taken up the role of parenting her two younger sisters following the death of their parents. The two sisters had long completed school and become independent. She had constantly turned to them for financial help so that she would manage shouldering the financial burden of her marriage and that of in-laws.

This is when she realized that she needed help on how to move forward. This is the time she and her husband sought marital therapy and that’s the time she learnt about codependency and codependency patterns.

One is codependent if they possess the following patterns;

Rescue Patterns.

These patterns are manifested by the need for codependents to voluntarily do for others things they can do for themselves. Sometimes they even believe that if they do not, the others will continue suffering. This is exactly what Laura had felt for her husband while he was in the hospital.

What causes the rescue pattern to be maintained?

Anyone who has experienced codependency will clearly tell you that it is tiring at some point. The one unconscious motivation to maintain this behavior is that the rescuer feels more superior to their victims, they feel they are better human beings than others who do not give.

Denial Patterns

Denial patterns present in codependency when they avoid unpleasant or painful things. Denial allows a person to avoid seeing and feeling what’s really going on both outside and inside them. This pattern pushes codependents to deny how they themselves truly feel while they pay attention to others’ feelings and sometimes own those feelings.

In dysfunctional families where denial patterns are used, the members lack the ability to define, as well as the skills to resolve the problems. They learn to deny their own needs and feelings as opposed to rocking the boat by attempting to resolve the issues.

Low Self Esteem Patterns.

This patterns marked by a codependents’ inability to accept themselves unconditionally. They attach love to what they do and feel that by giving more, doing more, sacrificing more etc., then they will be appreciated more. When they do their best but still don’t get accepted, they self-doubt their worth even more.

This pattern does not allow them to receive recognition, praise or gifts. Codependents find it very difficult to ask others to meet their needs because they do not perceive themselves as worthy of love. They continue to harshly judge their own thoughts and hardly feel good enough.

Even when they are high achievers, codependents continue to depend on their bosses, colleagues and even partners for approval. When they do not receive approval, they continue to feel insufficient and are not able to appreciate their own accomplishment.

Blame Patterns.

Codependents develop patterns of blaming others for what is not working in their lives and often blame themselves too for what is not working well in others’ lives. They continue to carry unnecessary load of burden for others but also expect others to carry the same burden for them.

They have challenges being able to learn the lessons and move on because they are stuck at the feelings of shame, guilt and regret that were mostly learnt right from their childhood.

Passivity Patterns.

Codependency thrives in passivity. This pattern originates from the family where one was raised. Passive people behave that way as they never learned to get what they wanted in direct active ways. In relationships, they continue the same codependent patterns of expecting their needs to be met without directly communicating it.

They compromise their values and integrity from time to time in order to avoid rejection.  They continue to value the opinion of others over their own because they are afraid of expressing different opinions. In many instances they own interests and hobbies of others so as to do what others want.

Part of passivity pattern used by codependents is “mind reading”. They expect the people they are in relationship with to be able to tell their needs and how exactly they would love them met. When their relationship counterparts do not do this, they become angry, bitter and resentful.


Control Patterns.

For codependents nothing can be done right unless it’s done their way or as they perceive things. This pattern makes them overwhelmed as they try to fix many things in the way they want them to be. One thing that they do not recognize is that their way is not the only right way.

As part of their control, a codependent become resentful when others do not allow them to help. They keep wondering why other people do not want to be ‘better people’. They continue to offer others advice and direction without being asked to.

As a result, when it is their time of need, they continue to expect others to come through for them in reciprocal to what they have constantly done all this time. They however, do not directly ask for help.

They continue relationships with needy individuals because they believe that they have to be needed in order to sustain relationships with others. This is the reason they sustain their caretaking role in relationships.

If these patterns are present in your life, you need to heal from codependency. Since codependency is an addiction that is used by unresolved pain in childhood, it may be helpful to find a professional to help you through the healing journey.

-By Joan Kirera- Family Therapist. For more visit: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera





This blog is special because Jeremy called me to ask if I could share his story so as to help any person struggling with dysfunctional relationships to find themselves, heal their own pain and raise children who will attract healthier people so that they stop generational relationship dysfunctions.

This is his story. Jeremy was raised by a stay at home mother and a father who was well accomplished career-wise. They were raised in a privileged setup where they enjoyed much more than what children in their neighborhood could afford. They also could afford holidays away from home and this provided more exposure to them as children.

The mother was a peacemaker who avoided conflicts with the father and also with the children. Instead of urguing, she chose silence. She always taught her children that they needed to learn how to make peace with the world and when things got tough, silence was wisdom. This is a dysfunctional part of his relationship he inherited from the mother.

The father on the other hand was vocal, a functional alcoholic and controlling. He insisted that things be done his way. This was made easy because he financed everything in the home and also made decisions for the family. Later, when Jeremy was 15 years and a first born of four, his dads alcohol intake got worse and Jeremy took up the fathers’ role of making decisions – only that he still depended on the father on the financial part.

As the father’s addiction progressed, he also started being both physically and verbally abusive.  At times when he abused the Mother or Children in public, they would make excuses for him. They learnt to tell the people around that it was the alcohol that made him aggressive because without it he was an amazing dad and husband.

By the time he was 20 years, he learnt to protect the mother from the father who had increasingly become abusive. He would ask that the father stops making noise to the family members when he came home drunk. For strange reasons the father would heed when Jeremy spoke to him.

When he was 26years and he wanted to start his own family, he considered marrying a woman who was busy working and building a career because he imagined that such would not be passive like the mother was. He indeed found one who was already a manager at the time, a go getter, one who was able to express herself well and these are traits that Jeremy admired.

As they began their family, they both rose to managing director and chief executive officer consecutively. They earned almost similar salaries with Jeremy earning slightly more. For many years, Jeremy felt like the father had resurrected in the wife because he experienced the wife the same way he had experienced the father in his first 10 years of life.

He later told his friends never to marry an accomplished woman because they would turn into being controlling. What he experienced was his parents’ relationship dysfunctions that was triggered by the wife. He had imagined the reason why she had been that way is because she had been a boss for so long that she did not know how to behave else way even at home.


She was constantly away and was emotionally unavailable both for Jeremy and the children. When she was home, she blamed Jeremy for everything that went wrong and purely depended on Jeremy for her happiness. He learnt to be silent in order to create a peaceful environment for the children. What he did not know at the time is, that he still created a model for relationship dysfunction just the same way his parents had modelled for him as a child.


When their first born was 8years, he asked the dad why he didn’t protect him against the mother because he felt the mother was very brutal to him. That is the time Jeremy realized that he had become what his mother was (passive) and his child had become him (helpless) when he was below 10 years. The wife on the other hand felt that if Jeremy had treated her well, she would have been a better mother.


Since he wanted better for his children, he began his journey of healing.  It begun when he understood that the issue was not just his wife but himself too, because he had behaved in a way that empowered his wife’s behavior to continue. At the time he shared his story with me, they had already had couple therapy and each had healed from their individual pain.  Their relationship at this point was more functional and the children felt more heard, loved and cared for.


This is a typical scenario for many marriages. Each member of the marriage blames the other for the challenges in their marriage without learning that functionality or dysfunctionality of the marriage is contributed by both partners and mostly because individuals attract each other at the level of their dysfunction. No highly functional individual attracts a highly dysfunctional person.


So what causes relationship dysfunction?


Rose Rosenberg puts it this way, all parents whether healthy or unhealthy provide their children with experiences and memories that will ultimately result in automatic relationship guide for their adult children relationships.


In his book “Love is a choice”, Dr. Hemfelt looks at each individual as one who has a love tank filled to some level. Each individual love tank was originally filled by the parents. Parents who are individually functional also have a more functional relationship – their love tanks are more filled and so they pour more to their children’s love tanks.


Dysfunctional individuals on the other hand attract other dysfunctional people, their relationship is dysfunctional and their love tanks are low. The children raised by these parents have very little on their love tanks and so they seem to attract people who can fill their love tanks.


Everyone desires harmony and love in relationships, However, people sabotage themselves by choosing a partner who they are initially attracted to but finally resent. This is because depending on anyone to fill your love tank is not sustainable. It results to relationship dysfunctions such as abuse.


How does dysfunction attract dysfunction?


Initially, parties in a relationship attract what they seem to lack in themselves or said differently, people attract those who have qualities they feel they are lacking in themselves. For example:


Passive people who find it difficult to self-start and self-motivate get attracted to those who are self-motivated, risk takers who are very directional. While initially this brings a balance, eventually the passive person ends up feeling controlled and resentful and yet they may feel the need to follow.

This creates a dysfunctional relationship and both need healing. This is clear in Jeremys story.


People who struggle with self-worth and self-confidence may initially attract people who have high sense of importance, self-driven who identify with power. While this may look admirable in the beginning, they end up feeling that their relationship partners only think of themselves and the levels of self-worth nose dive. To increase relationship functioning, both need healing.


Adult children who were raised being responsible for their parent’s emotions (a good example is Jeremy who learnt to protect the mother from being hurt by dad) end up attracting people who are emotionally unavailable or those they have to constantly fix them emotionally.  Jeremy attracted a wife who felt it was Jeremys responsibility to fix her emotions, make her happy. This is how dysfunctional relationships are maintained.


Children who lack parental love/are not able to bond emotionally with their parents later on in their lives attract partners who are over nurturing or over responsible. They continue to have unrealistic expectations on their partners expecting them to take both roles- that of spouse and the other of a parent. This causes role overload, resentment and lack of fulfilment increasing relationship dysfunction.


Children who felt unprotected by their parents may grow up to be dysfunctional adults who learn to overprotect and over shelter their spouses. These adults attract partners who have victim mentality. The dysfunctional relationship ends up picking many battles with the world that they end up losing important relationships that would have benefited them.


Whatever level of dysfunction that we have learnt from the family of origin needs to be acknowledged, unlearnt and new behavior relearnt. Without this, we will continue to attract dysfunctional partners who fit into our own dysfunctions. Until healing happens, safe feels unsafe and unsafe feels normal. The best gift one can offer themselves is personal healing.


By Joan Kirera – Family Therapist. For more visit Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera













Supporting Grieving Children

One day I walked into a school compound, I had some business to do in that school. The children were on lunch break and I could see so many children carrying their plates out of the serving area to the dining hall.

On one corner was Steph who was seated alone, looking lost. I walked into that corner and engaged the young girl; she was 6 years. When I asked what she was doing alone, she told me she remembered her mother’s conversations about being a good girl, not giving teachers a hard time and eating her lunch well and she felt that she had disappointed her. That is why she was sitting alone.

I took Steph and walked her to her class teacher as we conversed. While with the class teacher, I wanted to understand what had happened to the mother. Since the class teacher knew I work with children, she told Steph that I was a good person who works with children and I would help her if she told me what happened to her mother. That is when she narrated her story.

Her daddy and many other people buried her mother. The last she had seen the mother; she was in hospital. One-day daddy talked to her and let her know that her mother is no longer in hospital and that she had gone to heaven. while they told her that her mother went to heaven, Steph could not understand why they put her in a casket and buried her.

Her questions were; if my mother went to heaven, when will she come back? Where did they get the person they covered with soil? When did they get her from heaven? Was mom angry with her for playing in class while she expected her to not give the teacher a hard time?

These questions and concerns are very common among grieving children. The sense of belonging in children is very connected to the family – the parent and especially the mother. Loss of a parent, other family member or close friend then causes changes in the child’s daily routine and instability in the child’s life.

If grief is difficult to an adult, then it is even more complex to the child. Most adults who have gone through a grieving season will tell that they did not get enough support. Grieving children get even less support. Steph’s case is not different from the very many others that I have encountered in child therapy and adolescent counseling.

This happens because family and friends do not know how to support grieving children. While I will focus on death, any other loss experienced by the child can lead to the same emotions. These losses include parent’s separation, one parent leaving home to work away, loss of an emotionally connective nanny, loss of friends when the family relocates, etc.

Do we prepare our children for any kind of the loses mentioned? Do we even think of it as important? Children do not grieve like adults. While adults are expressive in talking and crying, children do not express themselves in similar manner. Children grief is sometimes invisible and difficult to notice and this is partly because they do not grieve at once.

At one point, they are showing signs of grief and shortly after they seem to be doing normal things and happy. This does not mean that they are through with grief. It may be that they will come back to grieving some time later because children’s grief may take longer. Children get triggers from time to time (sometimes the triggers are not related to death) and they start to grieve all over again.   

Healthy ways of helping the grieving children

Telling the truth about death to the grieving children

Break death into a language that the child can understand to help the child start the process of grieving. Help the child understand what death is. Some language used is too complex for children to understand and therefore does not support grieving. Part of what children find difficult to understand include:

  1. We lost him/her. The child may live with the expectations of the person  being found and coming back.
  2. The deceased passed away or passed on.
  3. The person went to heaven. We see the conflicts it caused in Steph’s life.
  4. The deceased went on a long journey. The child will expect them to come back.
  5. The dead person is asleep. This may make children afraid of going to sleep lest they fail to wake up.

For the children below 5 years I have found it meaningful to talk about the little insects that die when they are hurt or crushed. These little insects die and do not appear again. For example, a child can understand about someone being crushed by a vehicle by understanding about an insect being crushed. That is a language they understand.

For those above 6 years, let them know that the heart stopped, the person did not breathe anymore. The person no longer hears, sees or even reasons. Let the children know they will never see the person again and that the person will not come back.

Letting the children know the reasons why people die

Simplify the reasons why people die. These may include illnesses, accidents, old age, etc. Avoid graphic images especially when death was very traumatizing. Just explain the reasons in ways the child will understand.

Understanding helps to start the child grieving process. My experience with adults who lost parents through death as young children is that they find closure and follow through the grieving if they know what caused their parent’s death.

Funeral preparation

Children need to be prepared for what will happens on the day of the funeral. Preparation involves the people’s reactions and emotions and the church service if any. They need to understand that the dead body is put in the casket, the casket is lowered in the grave, the casket will be covered with soil and flowers used on the grave.

Give the details of the funeral happenings. Allow children to ask all the questions and answer as genuinely as you can. While adults imagine children cannot handle that much information, the information prepares them for all the day’s activities and facilitates continuous grief in children. Facilitate for each child to have an adult during the funeral, an adult the child knows and one that they like.

Allow children to express emotions

Let children know that it is okay to express emotions. What adults do in most cases is avoiding to talk about the death around children. Adults also keep their emotions unexpressed around children and this then leaves children feeling that expressing emotions is not acceptable.

Adults also find themselves shielding the children from feeling those emotions. A big number will work at making the children happy when they get sad or making the children forget negative emotions they feel such as anger. From these adult behaviors, children learn not to express emotions related to grieving.

Listen and connect emotionally

 This is enough support for a child. Grief in children comes with overwhelming emotions and pain and as such leaves children very vulnerable. Adults feel the need to shelter children from such pain and while the adults’ intention is normal and human, it may not help the grieving child.

To connect emotionally, one needs to listen to the child, not just what they are saying but their behavior and especially what kind of play they are doing. Listen to their emotions if they need to express and do not force them to express if they do not feel like. Assure them that they will have you only if you intend to be present and connecting to them as they journey through life.

I have heard adults telling the children that they will protect them and that they will never get hurt in life. I imagine this adult’s intention is to make the child feel safe, even if that is neither logical nor possible. It is giving false hope.

Incorporate other people who closely work with your children to support them

Let the teachers, trainers, nannies and anyone else who works with your children know that there might be behavior change in your child as a result of the loss experienced. Agree on how to handle the new behavior so that the grieving child is not wounded further. This helps to enlarge the social support circle for your child.

Professional help

Children find therapy through play and art. There are professionals trained to handle children emotional wellbeing through play and art. When a parent experiences the change of behavior and the child not improving for some time, it is only useful to seek professional help for them. Child therapy helps the child to deal with the overwhelming emotions emanating from the loss.

What to expect from the grieving children?

The child may present with any or all of these behaviors

  1. Bedwetting for children who had already stopped to bed wet
  2. Acting out/throwing tantrums/crying
  3. Isolation
  4. Clinginess
  5. Going back to a stage already passed like thumb sucking, crawling
  6. Poor concentration
  7. Sleep disturbances
  8. Self-centeredness
  9. Shame and guilt especially if the person who died was angry with the child or they had arguments in the deceased last days
  10. No interest in play
  11. Irritability
  12. Asking for help with tasks that they had already mastered


Questions about the dead or circumstances surrounding the death come up from time to time with grieving children.

Death conversations

Grieving children may get distressed by conversations surrounding the dead. In reality, the distress does not emanate from the conversations but from the painful emotions associated with grief. Adults in many occasions avoid these conversations so as not to upset the child which only teaches the child not to talk about the dead.

Grieve duration

For the children, grieving may take years. It gets easier as they grow older if proper support is given to them. With well supported children, they may come to accept the loss at adolescence or young adulthood.

For those children who received less or no support with the loss of especially parents, they may learn unhealthy methods of coping such as substance abuse, delinquency, risky sexual behaviors at adolescence and these behaviors continue to adult life. 

When these grief emotions are internalized in children, then they lead to adult behaviors such as violence, homicide or depression. These adults who did not grieve as children are at higher risks of committing suicide or developing other mental disorders. If as an adult you lost a parent at young age, it’s important to seek professional help if thinking about it brings about negative emotions or you are struggling with behavior problems.

By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera



I was seated playing with children and listening to their stories. When it was Karla’s turn to tell her story, she narrated how she had fun and enjoyed the many places that her daddy had taken her to tour. She told stories of places they had visited and how she felt sad having to leave dad after staying in his house for three days- after three days she had to come home to a mother who never liked her daddy.

Karla’s parents had separated when she was 6 years and mom had refused her to see daddy because he was not paying her upkeep on time. Mom had asked Karla to tell her daddy that he was not allowed to pick her until he paid her upkeep in advance. Karla felt sorry for the dad because he was good to her yet mom shared very bad things about the dad every time Karla enquired why daddy wasn’t picking her.

Whenever Karla got home, her mother wasn’t pleased with her because she would come crying and saying she wanted to stay more with dad. The mother had to talk with Karla asking her to stop being ungrateful for the sacrifices she made by wanting to follow the father who had been out of her life for two years and had only started co-parenting when Karla was 9years.

When Karla was calm, the mother asked her so many things about her dad –Did dad have any woman coming to his house? Did he frequently talk to anyone? In all those places he took you, were there any female friends who accompanied him? It was very difficult to answer these questions because; she did not want to betray dad and also did not want to lie to mom.

Some of these experiences from Karla are typical in many single parented families where co-parenting occurs. Co-parenting is the process where two parents work together to raise children even if they do not live together.

How can two parents co-parent peacefully?

Both parents need to avail themselves for the children.

When a couple separates/divorces or have never been married, children need both parents for proper development. No parent can take the place of the other. When a residential parent has not healed from the wounds of divorce, co-parenting becomes difficult because they expect their children to understand that the ex-spouse caused them pain and so not desire them as parents- that is very unhealthy because the nonresident parent is important as you- the resident parent.

The nonresident parent may also distance themselves from the children as they get busy with their new life, working, meeting friends or simply because they feel unproductive as parents. There is a temptation to feel like they are not making any contribution in the lives of children especially when children are well kept by the resident parent.

The visits by the nonresident parent communicate stability, wellness and worthiness to the children. When a parent withdraws, children are left wondering whether they did anything wrong, if the parents love them and this keeps them in a state of loss. Continuous grief not only affects child development but also keeps them in a state of instability.

How will co parents help their children from the feeling that one parent is better than the other?

While parents cannot fully eliminate this feeling in their children, they do not need to deliberately intensify it. What co parents need to do is not to compete for the position of better parent against each other, it is to show togetherness in parenting their children into productive adults.

Sometimes, the resident parent is caught up in the feelings of being overburdened with children responsibilities and while this may be factual, it does not mean the other parent is not doing their best. It only means that children cannot be in two places at the same time. When a resident parent feels overwhelmed and over-burdened, they need to find a safe space to ventilate. Sharing with your children only makes them lost for who to be loyal to between you and the non-resident parent.

The non-resident parent may feel the need to compensate their lost time by providing more entertainment, providing more junk food and allowing children to get away with indiscipline. This is more harmful than beneficial. What children need from the non-resident parent is to be loved and to be valued and this is possible with just the parent being available to play, interact and do things both the parent and children enjoy.

To avoid extremes in parenting, let co-parents agree on the basic parenting rules such as the discipline methods to be used, sleep times, methods of entertainment and also the kind of meals to be given to children. These simple rules provide consistency to the children.

How do co parents deal with conflicts without affecting their children?

Co-parents need to bring the spousal relationship to an end and remain with only parenting relationship. This means that no parent needs to rely on the other for emotional support, or for the meals, laundry for companionship, for daily updates etc. While feelings of sexual attraction resurface from time to time, acknowledge them as normal but do not act on them.

To help make co-parenting relationship more defined, method of communication should be agreed, when and how to communicate needs to be clearly agreed too. Unannounced visitations and unexplained calls are very damaging and the source of conflicts because the one being visited feels violated in terms of their private space.

Unless in cases where reconciliation is being sought, do not spend time discussing relationship progress with your ex-spouse, the new man or woman in their life or if they are dating and preparing for marriage. While it is natural to get hurt especially if your ex-spouse is getting married, it is healthy to acknowledge that they are not the ones hurting you- it is just that such development makes you begin the journey of grieving the lost relationship all over again and this time to someone else.

Keep away from gossip that is usually passed by the people around the circles of a co-parent.  This gossip can cause bitterness and resentment and make co-parenting impossible. Make deliberate decision to handle your ex-spouse with respect, when you feel they do not deserve your respect, remind yourself that your children require healthy parents.

How do co-parents support their children to deal with loss?

Co-parents need to grieve their own losses and heal. It is only a healed parent who has capacity to support a child long term. In the initial stages when the co-parents are grieving, it is okay to open the channels of communication where you allow children know that it’s okay to feel bad about the divorce, it’s okay to feel sad, it’s okay to miss the non-resident parent, it’s okay to miss their friends (incase the location has changed) and that from time to time, you too miss your ex-spouse.

It is okay to allow the children to talk and ask the questions that bother them. Answer as honestly as possible without giving adult information. An example would be, when a child asks about the other parent’s new family, just let them know Dad or mom loved someone else and therefore started new family with them. Information such as daddy had infidelity issues on mum or mum was cheating on daddy is too complex and damaging to the child.

When children volunteer to take the role of mediator during conflicts, thank them but do not allow them. Let them know that the co-parents will work around things and that they (the children) do not need to worry. Do not refuse the co-parent from visiting the child because they have delayed upkeep-your children need the stability the other parent brings and so they do not understand such details.

Do not mistake children’s tantrums, bedwetting, defiance, withdrawal as rebellion that deserves punishment. One parent leaving the life of the child is hard enough, what they need is to be listened to and supported. Ask them what is making them sad, throw tantrums etc. Let them know unless they communicate you may not know how they feel. When they share validate their feelings and assure them you are there for them. If they do not share, be patient with them.

When you feel that the behavior is persisting, calmly remind the children rules and let them know the consequences should they not follow. Do not make them feel guilty if they are happier on the days of visitation by the non-resident parent. Do not allow self-doubt on your abilities as a parent, unless you have good reasons for that. Allow the children to go through their process, their own way.

When you realize that the children are not improving and that after separation, there are significant changes, and the child is not making positive progress, have them taken through the healing process by a professional therapist.

By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera


Addiction to negative emotions – were you raised in chaos?

As I walked into the building where I was going to see a specialist, I met a gentleman walking away while a lady ran after him. When the lady realized that she couldn’t catch-up with the man, she sat on the floor crying wondering why she had her emotions out of place.

Although I have taught myself to keep away from other people’s lives unless invited, this looked odd and I thought it is only fair to enquire if she was okay. When I moved closer and she felt a bit safe, she asked me if I thought she was crazy, or if she was in some form of addiction.

The specialist I had an appointment with and the one she had gone to see shared the same waiting area. I therefore kept her company as I waited to for my turn. When she was calmer, she asked me if I could listen as she waited for her doctor which I obliged.

She had come to see a psychiatrist because she had suicidal ideation for many months and that the night before the doctor’s visit, she had attempted suicide. Her reason for attempting suicide is because she has called the boyfriend who had left their house for a period of one month, asked him to return and he had told her that he would never return.  

She was very devastated because prior to his leaving, the boyfriend had gone out with his friends for a drink and he had refused to pick her calls. When the boyfriend arrived the following morning, she had packed his clothes and threw them outside in the presence of their neighbors something she regretted but also mentioned that the kind of anger she felt was so compulsive, like an addiction. Without her knowledge, she was repeating the chaotic environment she had previously experienced.

Trying to get him to visit or even come back home was difficult so she wrote and shared a suicide note with him digitally and out of concern, he responded by visiting her, kept her company that night before the doctor’s visit and accompanied her to the doctor.

She acknowledged that the company he gave her helped her to calm down but from time to time, would feel this uncontrollable anger- then many other mixed emotions which were anger, gratitude, loneliness, abandonment and unloved. It felt like hers was an addiction to negative emotions. Her internal environment had become chaotic.

While they were at the waiting bay, they had an argument about him going back to their house and as he maintained his position of not going back, she asked him to leave her alone and even started to shout. That’s when he left quickly and that’s the point that we met as she ran after him. As sad as it made her feel, she was projecting her inner chaotic environment to him.

Tears were freely flowing as she narrated that each time she is angry, she cuts off friends or creates some drama that ends her relationships prematurely. When good relationships ended, she hated her lonely life, felt like the world had come to an end and yet she couldn’t handle her anger. She lives in chaos and when there is none, she creates them, unconsciously.

This is the same thing she had done with her boyfriend who had made effort to offer her support in the night and also bring her to the doctor. “ Am I psycho? am I crazy ? what’s wrong with me ?what makes me so terrible?” these were the questions she constantly asked. While I could not answer the questions, I knew there must be where she interacted with chaos and she was just reenacting.

When she finished talking, I asked her if she had family so that they could keep her company when boyfriend left. She let me know that the mother had left the country many years ago and they were not in touch. What she remembered happening when she was 5 and 6 years is dad would come home drunk and beat-up the Mum and she and the brother would run into hiding.

Dad would go on and throw the mothers clothes outside and ask her to leave and never return. Anytime the mother left, she felt so rejected and lonely and all she did was cry day and night and the dad would go pick the mother and bring her back. At this point, the source of her behavior was coming to light, such a chaotic environment that she was raised in.

Then the mother left the country and never came back, shortly the brother died in the hands of a step mother. That’s the time she felt like the whole world had turned against her, same feeling she felt when boyfriend left. Same feelings she experiences when good relationships ended. These are the emotions she got addicted to. She learnt to create chaos in order to retain the negative emotions.

This is not unusual; it is very common for children who were raised in chaotic environments. They do not understand safety because safety is unfamiliar to them. Peace causes some level of unease because chaos is what seems familiar to them.

What is clear about people who were raised in chaos is addiction to negative emotions. It is either life offers them similar circumstances, or they create situations that cause them to live with negative emotions.

Say for example

A person who was raised in chaos doesn’t understand calm, when they have a calm season in marriage, they wonder what the partner is up to, they become suspicious and begin to get insecure – rocking the marriage boat.

When a friend treats them well, they feel uncomfortable and wonder what the friend intends to take away from them, they detach and continue to feel rejected, same negative emotions as seen in the narration.

Like the lady in the above narration, when someone offers them safety and support they create chaos because safety is unfamiliar territory, ending up with many more negative emotions. Emotions that become part of who they are-angry people, shamed people, rejected people.

If one was raised by a parent who criticized the child more than appreciate them, they expect a boss to always complain about their work, when the boss doesn’t, they begin to feel anxious and this anxious feeling broods more anxiety, leading to a state of anxiety.

When they make mistakes and wrong other people, instead of forgiving themselves, they beat themselves, get angry for feeling angry, hate themselves for acting in the way they did and at the end of the day, they end up with cocktail of negative emotions about themselves and a chaotic environment.

When one is due for promotion, they doubt their capacity to deliver ending up sabotaging themselves at the interview. Eventually, they end up feeling ashamed and angry for doing so bad in the interview.

When their children are doing well, they have to keep looking for negatives. Even when friends tell that their children are amazing, they still find one or two points to discredit their own children- which leads to the parent’s feelings of inadequacy.

When friends share about the injustices caused to them by mutual friends, their spouses or their relatives, a person who was raised in a chaotic environment will hate the people that wronged their friend.  The hate is intense that when the friend reconciles with their spouse, relatives and any other person who had been unjust to them, the one raised in a chaotic environment feel betrayed.

Another group of individuals who were raised in chaotic environment constantly attack people on the road, on social media, at work – they attack people who remind them of a parent or figure of authority that hurt them when they were children. The unresolved emotions that they experienced in their previous chaos are projected to totally undeserving people.

A person who lost their parent early, a person whose parent was always leaving them or one whose parent was absent is constantly unconsciously reenacting the chaos of being left that even when they enter into stable relationships or marriage, they are constantly threatening to leave, or they are constantly planning their exit should the partner leave.

A person whose parent was an alcoholic or had untreated mental illness learnt to live and fix the mess created by those parents. Most first born child who were assigned parental roles also learnt that it was their business to carry the burdens of others.

These adult children replicate their chaos by attracting friends and intimate partners who need fixing and caretaking. Eventually they get drained and end up with multiple negative emotions because they are overwhelmed with responsibilities that do not belong to them.

Each person who was raised in a chaotic environment needs to give themselves permission to heal this addiction. It’s the one gift they can offer themselves. While no one can change the environment they were raised in, everyone can take responsibility to do better going forward.

By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera




One day while attending some group workout in some public space, I got to hear so many stories about how lack of flexibility is a “sex killer”.  The lack of flexibility is a story for another day.

One particular man spoke about how he was going to divorce the wife because for three months, he had not had sex with her and before then he would get home, find the wife asleep, wake her up for sex, and she would simply turn and the man would do his thing, ejaculate and sleep.

In his narration, he complained of the wife calling him a stranger because he came home late. To him, as so long he got late working to provide for the family, he had no issues.  By and by each of them got busy. The Husband working and wife raising children and that is how they stopped engaging in any other topic but that of children and the needs of the home.

There are many couples who are as dissatisfied just like this man because sex is not happening in their marriage. Some of these couple believe it is the only reason why the two got married and sex the only thing that should not stop happening in the marriage.

While I agree that sex is very important to human beings, I also acknowledge that it does not exist in a vacuum. Satisfactory sex needs to have other areas of a marriage functioning. Satisfactory sex works consistently where there is quality relationship, the bond between the sex partners is good and conflicts are resolved and not carried forward.

In John Gottman words, sex needs to be about passion, ability to connect as well as communication as opposed to skills and techniques. When it is about skills attention is paid on erection and time spent on penetration and if or whether orgasm is achieved or not.

While good skills and techniques are important, they are simply not helpful, they may not produce satisfying sex or even emotional bonding thereafter. For a couple in a marriage or those enjoying a lasting relationship, the process is equally important as the skills.

Common myths about sex

  1. All women have/need multiple orgasms
  2. That all women need penetrative sex to orgasm
  3. That all women squirt.
  4. That any sexual contact should lead to sex
  5. That a hard penis and its performance define the quality of sex
  6. That the bigger the penis, the better the performance.
  7. That the longer a man lasts in penetration, the better the sex.

Sex is a creative art that the two people involved need to build. Before working on the sex positions and new techniques, ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Do we have a sense of belonging with each other?
  2. Have we resolved all our issues as a couple?
  3. Does my partner or myself have any unhealed painful sexual experiences?
  4. Are we comfortable with our particular gender?
  5. Do we love our bodies?
  6. Are we free to express ourselves and our needs to our partner sexually?
  7. Do we have freedom to try new things that we have not tried before/make the journey adventurous and enjoyable?

When one answers no to these questions then there need to be communication on the areas that need adjustment. This again may be a hard task depending on the way the couple was socialized. To some talking about sex is something they learnt shouldn’t happen because either sex issue was taught with so much shame to them or it was a topic never to be discussed.

While too much sex or lack of it is believed to be a cause of marital problems, sex challenges represent more than just one issue in marriage. They represent unresolved issues, lack of emotional bonding, faulty beliefs and attitudes towards sexuality and inability to communicate sexual needs.

Beliefs and attitudes held about sex.

The perspectives that different people have when it comes to sex originates from the sex education in their younger life and the sexual experiences they have had. Those who were taught that sex is Gods special gift to the married seem to be having more positive view point to sex.

Those that were taught that sex is bad manners, a bad thing, were not expected to feel or talk about sex, or whom any sexual behavior attracted ridicule, being shamed or punished, seem to struggle through sex and even feel some level of guilt or shame while engaging sexually even in a marriage setup.

To explore further, it helps to reflect on the following questions. Who first taught you about sex/sexuality? Was sex a topic your family could freely engage in? were questions on sex and sexuality answered? Did your parents and other adults close to you show love and affection? Did you have someone to talk to if you had sexual feelings towards a friend, classmate etc.?

These will provide you with the attitude and beliefs that you hold and probably point you to their origin. Does the attitude you hold enhance pleasure or reduce it? Should you find yourself stuck, then it’s important to seek help. Having pleasurable sexual experience is what each person involved needs.

In a group discussion on sex issues among women, A Lady shared that she could not initiate sex, has never initiated and thinks she will never initiate. Asked the reason behind her stand, she said that what she was taught from young age is that it was immoral to have sexual needs or even urges and that when they came about, she was supposed to ignore them.

She had learnt to ignore her sexual needs, a practice she continued to do in marriage. Further, she believed that speaking her sexual needs or even initiating sex in her marriage would have her integrity questioned and feared she’d be thought of as a whore.

Lady B shared that she had been given sex education by her mother who spoke about sex in normal tones, with no shame, as a precious gift from God, as a special gift and special gifts were to be considered and treated as precious.

She had embraced and seen sex in that perspective and when she got married, she was ready to explore and enjoy the gift of sex. These would freely talk about sex right from premarital stage. In their marriage, it became normal to dialogue around sex just like any other area. She confessed to reaching orgasm almost in all the sexual encounters.

Lady C complained to have never experienced an orgasm and that her sexual life was marked by pain, vaginal dryness and sorrow. Whereas they seemed to manage all other issues with ease, Sex created so much tension between her and her spouse.

Asked how she got introduced to sex and by who, she mentioned that she had been abused by their gardener who severally forced himself on her. He parents worked far from home and had tasked the gardener to be opening the gate and house for her when she came from school. This molestation started when she was 6 years and continued until she was 12 years.

Despite having always used lubricants, She had never experienced any form of pleasure. She suffered two sexual dysfunctions: lack of desire for sex and inability to orgasm. She felt that the marriage would have been more enjoyable without sex involved.

How to communicate about sex

Be patient when raising sex topic because most people come from backgrounds where sex is not openly spoken out and therefore may find it difficult or shameful to discuss sex

Most people feel sexually vulnerable. Do not therefore criticize your partner but rather help them know how you like things done.

Do not take it personally when your partner shares what sexually turns them on or off. It is about them, not about you. Let understanding your partners needs remain the goal.

Compromise; – Accommodate each other. How many times you would like to have sex, how each of you love things done etc. needs to be discussed and considerations done for each member.

If these tips are not improving your marriage life, then it is possible that you may need to let go some of those past experiences that hinder satisfying sex or seek services of a Sex Therapist.

By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera


Discipline in early childhood

The formative years are the first years of formation which are 0-6 years. These are the years where behavior or a child’s character are formed. These are the years that shape a child’s perspective of the world.

The formative years form the foundation of health or dysfunctionality of the individual in adulthood. As such, these years need to be handled with patience, care and a lot of understanding in order to shape healthy individuals.

The foundation of a well-adjusted child lays in a well-adjusted parent. A parent cannot offer health if they are devoid of it. Part of individuals’ health is the ability to set limits and allow consequences when the set limits are not followed as opposed to expecting results from behavior one has not defined. This is what discipline is.

People who are not healthy protect loved ones from the consequences of their actions which leads to indiscipline and irresponsibility.

Methods of discipline for children

The methods discussed below apply to parenting of children with no mental health issues and with no special needs.

If a child portrays behavior that causes the parents unnecessary concern such as excessive aggression, fear, anger, defiance or anything that is too excessive, it is advisable to have the child assessed by a professional.

Professional assistance to equip parents of children with special needs and childhood mental illnesses on methods of discipline that will work best for their children is essential. Handling such children the same way one would handle a child with no such condition could damage the child further.

Clearly define the limits and set consequences

This means that a parent needs to communicate what is acceptable and what is not. This is the first level of discipline across all ages. Communicating means helping a child understand using age appropriate methods. Communicating expectations with a child is not a one-off thing but needs to be repeated until the child learns.

In the first year, this is easy to implement. If a child for example bites a mother’s breast, a mother can separate the child from the breast, say no, and put the child down or just push and put the child down.

Children learn through repetition

When this is repeated, the child understands it. Why? Because it acts as punishment. Punishment of being separated from what gives the child pleasure and punishment of being separated from their comfort. The child will internalize that and act appropriately.

At the age of one year, babies tend to experiment a lot with their mouths.  A mother needs not get angry at the baby. Appropriate discipline helps a child to adjust behavior and remain healthy.

In the second year, children typically test limits. They are even referred to as “terrible two”. Notably, it is at this stage that a child is trying to assert their independence, and this is characterized by throwing tantrums and rebellion.

While a parent needs to allow a child to make their own decisions (basic ones such as trying to wear their own clothes, allowing children to feed themselves etc), the parent needs to ensure that limits are clear.

Terrible twos and tantrums

A good example is when you walk into a shop or supermarket, and the child wants to pick all kind of toys, sweets, chocolates and such things as are available. If restrained, they throw tantrums, cry or even roll on the floor.

There is nothing abnormal about the tantrums. The child is just testing how far they can be allowed as individuals. To correct that, there needs to be clear communication between the parent and child on how many items the child can pick from the shelves and the consequences for non-adherence.

Teach the child to communicate properly. Let them know that they cannot be understood if they cry and speak at the same time. Allow them to cry and only listen when they stop crying. That way they can clearly communicate what it is that they want and even if they cannot talk, then they can point. Do not feel obligated to do it all but stick to your initial agreement.

Remind yourself and teach the child that they cannot have their way all the time in life. However, should they do the obvious like crying, rolling on the floor or screaming, ensure they are in a safe place and let them roll some more, let them cry all they can. In fact, encourage them to cry their all, as you stand and observe.

Take a deep breath and observe them without shame or guilt. There is nothing shameful about being a responsible parent by training your child.

The challenge with most parents is they feel ashamed, mindful of what the society thinks about them and their competence as parents. Many observers would expect to have you spank the child or judge you a failed parent if you do not punish the child for the tantrums.

Some will rubbish you as a poor example of a parent. Others will shout all vulgarities at you. Just keep your cool. You choose either the longer healthier, and most appropriate way or the shortcut of spanking.

Take deep breaths and remind yourself that those who are judging you will not live with the consequences of having your child untrained. That will give you the strength to not give in to pressure.

If the tantrums happen in a safe place such as at home, it is okay to walk out of the room briefly in order to calm yourself. As much as possible, avoid scheduling outings around your child’s nap time or meal time, which could increase the chances of becoming irritable.

3 to 6 years old

3-6 years old is the school going age and these children understand things verbally. Talk to them of what is expected of them and confirm that they have understood. Allow them to ask questions. Set the limits and the consequences should they violate the set standards.

Be sure to effect the consequences set when limits are violated. Doing what you promised to do is what effective discipline is. At this stage, other additional discipline methods can be used such as:

1.    Being a good example

This models the required discipline in Children. You cannot use insulting words or shout if you have already set that as a limit. If putting legs on the table is wrong for children, then it needs to be wrong for you.

Unless you want the children to shout when angry then avoid shouting. Discipline is learnt through observation and not just through words.

2.    Being present and available for the children

Children react to seek attention when they feel abandoned by the parents and care givers. The best way to instill discipline in regard to attention seeking behavior is through presence, availability and readiness to listen to your children. Beating and punishing the child for attention seeking behavior is destructive.

3.    Reward system for good behavior

Parents communicate the expected behavior, an example of expected acceptable behavior for the child is to arrange their play items in their designated area each day after play, and if they do it consistently for a month, then the children can be rewarded by being taken for a trip, to a favorite eating joint, have some luxury item purchased etc.

Chose a reward that you can comfortably afford and that which you intend to fulfil. Reward can be a play day together in the fields. It does not have to be something that will cost money, it needs to be something children value. Using rewards is a good way of improving discipline.

4.    Using punishment

Used correctly, occasional punishment is helpful in molding a well-balanced child. Punishment should be used in moderation so do not fight your child over each and every bad behavior.

When children display unpleasant behavior, a parent needs to let them know that continuing in such behavior may cost some of their treasured privileges. for example; instead of watching cartoon, they will be in their room alone, facing the wall for 30 minutes, they will not do outdoor play for a week etc.

The defined consequences need to be effected if discipline has to be maintained. Punishing a child for something the child had no idea was not acceptable does not train a child. It might make the child stop doing it out of fear but no lesson is learned.

5.    Verbal appreciation

We bring up children with low self-esteem when we only point what they do wrong and never what they do right. Children who are never appreciated and praised grow up with so much self-doubt that they fail to take initiative at every step of life.

Raising children’s self-confidence is possible even as parents’ discipline. Giving positive affirmation teaches children the right behavior and also enhances it since all human beings thrive in validation.

To bring up healthy individuals, the parents needs to be healthy. Both rewards and punishment need to be used to bring up healthy children. No single method of discipline can produce well adjusted individuals.

By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera



I sat in a hotel waiting for my friend and on the next table was a couple shouting at each other. The source of conflict was that the man had been sending money to his family of origin while the wife and children depended on the wife’s salary. His argument was that he needed to send all his salary to his family to cater for his younger siblings’ school fees.

The wife, very devastated did not seem to understand what was the husband’s primary responsibility; Was it his three children or the five who belonged to his parents? She kept asking him what the role of his parents was. To calm down the wife whose emotions were running high, he told her that once he educates the siblings and builds a house for the parents, he will be free to take over to care for their three children.

He begged her to understand the importance of him doing that is because he really needed the blessings of the parents. He therefore, needed the wife to continue paying their bills. The wife was getting more uncomfortable as the man continued to beg. Finally, as more people settled in the hotel, they left because they were clearly attracting attention.

This husband is an example of a person who has not left home. Leaving home is manifested in the presence of clear boundaries when it comes to finances. It comes in many other ways such as the kind of feelings experienced, the beliefs held and the behavior displayed.

 It is true that if the two parties in a marriage do not leave their respective homes, they will not successfully form their own healthy and stable family. Leaving home is not only done when one gets married, it needs to be done by any adult person.

Leaving home is not keeping physical distance from your parents. It is the ability to be separate at thought, feelings and behavior level. Leaving home refers to the ability to let go the patterns picked from the family of origin that are not working in an adult individual. Psychologists call the process of leaving home individuation.

Leaving home entails healing from the pain caused by parents and siblings, breaking dependency on one’s family, being able to make separate decisions, creating a separate identity from the other family members, learning to be near without anger and being away without guilt.

Here are some indicators that one has not left home

Inability to communicate.

When one party in a marriage is completely cut-off and does not visit their family or has not seen or heard from them for years, or is not able to communicate because they are afraid of their parents, it is clear indicator that they are wounded and leaving home has not happened.

Inability to make independent decisions

When one member of the marriage finds it necessary to counter-check most or all marital decisions or even personal decisions with his family, then it is clear that they have not left the home. We all need to consult from time to time because we are not all knowing but if the only consultants one has is his own family, then clearly there is a challenge.

A healthy person is able to make decisions and question those that have been made on their behalf.

Letting go the friends when your family does not approve of them.

Unless the family of origin is offering valid reasons that directly affect your core values on why you need to drop certain friends, letting friends go because your family did not like them is a clear indication that one has not left home.

Inability to love someone else without losing a parent’s love.

Those parents who are constantly telling their children that they are all they got, those who parents constantly tell that they are their one and only love. These are the parents who use their children to meet their emotional needs (mostly unintended).

For these children, having to choose a man or woman to love in life can be very difficult because they constantly feel that they are betraying their own parents.  Some of these cases end up badly because the moment they get intimately involved with someone else, they end up losing their parents love.

Adults who hide their true selves in order to appear perfect.

The other lot of those who have not left home are those who were expected to be perfect, to make no mistake and to not fail. Most of the time these individuals come from setups where the standards were very high or homes that were very dysfunctional and high achieving made them feel closer to normal.

I have met many adults who cannot tell parents demanding financial support that they are jobless or struggling financially, those who wait for the parents to leave the party so that they can take alcohol, those who borrow certain things to meet their parent’s expectations are some example of people who have not left home.

Might that be the case of the husband in the hotel? Could he have felt obligated to relieve his parents completely because he was doing slightly better than his parents? In what other ways do you feel the need to present a perfect self to your home? These may be indicators to the fact that you have not left home.

They feel responsible for their parents and sibling’s problems.

Have you had a spouse who is called by his family to solve most or all the family problems? These ones are highly likely the family heroes. They spend most of their time and resources thinking how they can save their families from trouble. Such people have not left home.

In healthy setups adult children may be required to help from time to time but they do not take full responsibility of what the parent is capable of doing. A functional adult needs to be able to take care of their physical, spiritual, social, economic and mental needs.

 Those who have not left home are the ones who bill out the family, mediate the parental conflicts, travel home to sort the family worker’s issues, solve relationship issues for the siblings, they sometimes are made to solve the problems of the community.

Those who feel that their spouses should automatically comply to their parent’s demands.

One time I met a young lady who was a stay home mum and who felt the husband should be contributing 20,000/= monthly to the parents. The parents had tasked the 3 adult children they had to build rentals for them and these children felt that defying that would attract a curse.

Since the lady in question had no money, she felt that being one with the husband, he was automatically needed to pay the money monthly as a show of solidarity. Even when the husband felt more responsible to provide for his nuclear family, the wife would hear none of it. People who have not left home struggle to say no to even what they have no capacity to do.

When there is guilt for having some form of pleasure when your family has none.

Every adult is responsible for having the life they chose, at least that is true to a large extent. The fact that one member of a family makes a choice to heal their past pain, work harder and succeed more does not warrant the other members of the family the same success.

A person who has not left home struggles to acknowledge this fact and feels guilty for having little pleasure. Some cannot even do a small holiday because one sibling is struggling to build a house, raise school fees for their children, or get by with normal life. They feel those resources are better used to better the family members. Every time they purpose to enjoy some form of pleasure, needs arise and they feel guilty and turn their resources into meeting the needs of their home.

Carrying shame as an adult for what parents are doing.

I have known adults who buy clothes, food, household items for their aging parents and instead of the parents enjoying what has been brought to them, they sell or give away, some in exchange for alcohol and others simply because their children are “rich” and will bring more.

Shortly after, the parents or community people make calls explaining that the parent is starving or has no clothes or household items. The adult children feel ashamed for their parents and replace the items, only for the cycle to keep repeating itself.

A healthy individual who has left home will decide to let the aging parent deal with the consequences of their behavior and make peace with the fact that they did what needed to be done in the first place.

By Joan Kirera- Family Therapist. For more visit Facebook: Joan Kirera, YouTube: Joan Kirera



One time I lived near a neighbor who would issue all kinds of threat on his four-year-old daughter and his six year old son every night. One day while she was using the rod to “discipline” them for not eating their evening meal well, I decided to engage and get to know what made her shout, issue threats and spank the children, was there some skill training lacking?

I found her explanation both concerning and saddening at the same time only later to realize that, this was a common occurrence in many more families. She said that children had to eat to full because she did not want them to wake up hungry at night and bother her. Understandable, right?

While I agree that children sleeping well is most beneficial to them, I also ask myself if there are skills the parent can train to help the children feed better and sleep better. Is there training that can help children get better? Do children need to be skilled and do things for themselves or do they need to be supervised all the time?

In another family, a five-year-old would throw tantrums for hours if she needed something and the Nanny did not give it right away. This child would ask for milk and when placed before her she would cry to be fed, she would insist on the Nanny doing things for her including carrying her to bed during sleep time. This was a school going child.

One time on social media, a parent was asking for help on their child who had refused to wear part of her clothes because she constantly chose a red dress and so long as it was clean, it is the single one she picked. This parent was met with criticism on how she had allowed her child to rule over her while others comforted her and helped her understand that the child was just seeking her own independence.

This bring us to the question, what should we do for our children and what do we train them to do for themselves? At what stage do we begin skill training? Will the little children understand what is happening? These are some of the questions I have heard from parents.

Skills to train Between 1-3years

  1. Potty Training – if the parent is harsh, angry, and mostly punishing the child at this point, the child becomes too neat, perfectionist and also carries toxic shame. This child is highly likely to be mean. Moderation is key in Potty-Training.
  2. Allow children to make decisions for themselves. Wearing clothes, feeding themselves, wearing their shoes. If they do it well, praise, clap, simply reward behaviour.
  3. Create safety in their learning, if they wear sweater inside out or shoes wrongly, praise them first, then show them how to do things better.
  4. Pouring food is okay as they learn to feed themselves, have them be in a space where you won’t need to get angry if they pour. Expecting perfection at this point is simply raising damaged children. At this stage do little for children, let them do most of their self-care work.
  • Teach them to arrange the toys after play. If you are struggling to train, or you find it difficult training, that is normal, if you are constantly angry when they do not learn, you may benefit from finding professional help for yourself.
  • Assertiveness training begins form age 1-3 and progresses to all other ages. If you allow children to make decisions for themselves, to talk to you, to ask you questions, to question your decisions over them, then you teach them how to defend themselves out there.

Is it okay to reward work well done at this time? Yes.

What kind of reward? Balance gifts with praise and encouragement.  When gifts are used alone, they create a culture in children that every effort they take deserves money or gifts.

Assertiveness training begins form age 1-3 and progresses to all other ages.

If you allow children to make decisions for themselves, to talk to you, to ask you questions, to question your decisions over them, then you teach them how to defend themselves out there.

Skill training for Ages 3-6 years

Train them how to protect themselves against sexual predators. If parents are comfortable and are able to pass good lessons in sexuality, the children get confident sexually. For sex education skills, go to

Train them relationship skills -this is where girls become attracted to their daddies and boys their moms, while identifying with same gender for begging to learn gender roles. This age, both parents are supposed to be as present as possible and connect with children.

For single parents, get models of the opposite parent that you are not. (models are people you consider able to connect emotionally, non-abusive and have similar values with yourself)

Let children select meaningful activities for themselves. Train them how to take initiative by allowing them to choose their activities and only intervening when its necessary. Over protecting children at this point from imagined hurts only denies them an opportunity to learn the necessary skills.

So if you as a parent want to play with your children, ask them what they want you to play together and most of the time, allow them to choose. This is how they learn decision making skill. When this lacks, you will produce adolescents and adults who cannot make decisions.

Let children fix their own problems. They need to be able to open a packet of biscuits or candy (not healthy though), if they fight with friends, do not go and confront the friends, train your child how to be assertive (assertiveness is not telling them to go and fight outside too) if you are doing this, you need help as a parent because you are teaching violence.

 This is the age where no child should be fed, unless they are special needs children or with developmental challenges. Ordinary children need to eat by themselves until they are full. If they refuse to eat, no pressure, let the food remain in specific place, when hungry, they will come back and eat.

6 years and above

  • Begin to train actual skills.
  • Washing their own inner wears and handkerchiefs.
  • Making meals under your supervision.
  • Doing dishes.
  • Watering the garden

Let a child have some consistent role/ duty so that they learn the work culture.

This is the age to train value for money. Let them work for pay so that they understand that money is earned after work. Also at this point, you can teach that the money earned is not all spent. Some parents whose value system allow teach about Tithing at this point.

Saving part of what they earn needs to be taught too. Basically, for every money earned some is saved and some spent. When teaching savings, help children understand why saving money is important and answer all appropriate questions.

What kind of work do you pay?

  1. Eating?
  2. Clearing the table?
  3. Bathing well?
  4. Feeding well?

 No.  Don’t pay children to take care of themselves.

You pay what you ideally would have paid someone to do. You decide what that is since it differs from house to house.

When the children do not learn skills at this point, they end up feeling inferior among their peers. Research has showed that the child who lack skills by the age of 12 are less competent and have low self-esteem.  It is also true that the children with no competences gained below 12 years find it difficult to function productively as adolescents.

Skill training between 12 to 19 years.

Relationship skills – train and give children the liberty to relate with opposite gender. Let them have healthy relationships without specializing in any one in particular. This is the right stage to normalize sexual attraction. Let the adolescents know that it is okay to feel attracted to the opposite gender, in fact, it means that their sexual development is okay when they get sexual attractions.

It’s important for adolescents to understand that fantasizing is normal. That feeling too careful of their looks is fine. What they need to learn is how to manage all these new feelings and developments.

Management skills – how to manage the new bodily changes, the societal expectation of them, peer pressure and peer expectations, how to manage the new freedom they are seeking out for and how to fit into the family setup even as they deal with enjoying their new space.

Assertiveness skills – They seem to be finding it interesting to share and spend time with peers more than the parents. While there is nothing wrong with that, they need to learn how to say no to what is being done by others and is not acceptable to them. Being different is not a sign that something is wrong with them, it’s a measure of their own uniqueness.

Self-care skills – train adolescents how to always care for themselves when undertaking any activity or learning to ask themselves if it benefits them and if yes, in which ways? If it doesn’t benefit them then its important to understand that it may not work for them in the long run and that continuing with the activity is self-hate.

Communication and negotiation skills – they need to learn to share their perspective their thoughts and feelings without shame. They need to learn that their thoughts and emotions matter. When they are given rules that do not go well with them, they need to feel free to negotiate their way to achieve something that works for them.

Problem solving and decision making – they need to learn to effectively solve problems and ask for help when they cannot. The adolescent needs to be allowed to make decisions and then countercheck with the parent or the adult in their life so that they can perfect the decision making.

There needs to be additional physical self-care skills where they can be able to make their own meals and do their own laundry, take care of their own bedrooms and study space so they learn to be overall responsible for their lives. No adult needs to clean after a teenager.

By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera.


Few years ago, I bumped into young children between three years and four years, well known to me. the boy and the girl were kissing on the lips. I observed them for about thirty minutes as they consistently kissed. I called the two of them and started to engage in a kids talk. While in my presence they continued to kiss.

Curious I asked both where they had learnt how to “chum” as they called it. At this point, my tone or voice did not change as we continued to playfully engage. The boy told me that he had learnt from older friends who were around 7 and 8 years.

I invited the seven-year-old and the 8-year-old who ended up sharing that they had watched pornography in one of the houses accompanied by their nanny. It turned out to be such a chain of many people being involved including some parents.

How do children learn about sex?

In the meetings that followed, we talked about how the other children got involved and the two young ones told me that during their play, they had been going to some corner where the boy and the girl had severally been asked to remove their pants and the boy asked to lie on the girl as others cheered on.

We ended up having a meeting with the parents and we discussed that each parent needed to give the child sex education and explain to their children what is sexually appropriate and what is not. This helps the children to learn how to protect themselves and also protect others from child sexual abuse or sexual violation.

Talking with many school going children has helped me realize that very few children have had sex education from home, and that the little they have been taught is by teachers. Most of the people I have interacted with seem not to have been taught anything about sex by their parents.

What makes it difficult for parents to give children sex education?

  1. The parents do not know exactly what kind of education to give to what age.
  2. An unhealthy parents’ view of sex and sexuality – beliefs and perceptions such as sex is bad, sex is shameful, calling sexual organs by name is indecent, sex is never supposed to be talked about around children, or children will not understand /children know nothing about sex or their sexuality. Unhealthy sex education is more damaging.
  3. When the parent harbors unhealed sexual wounds – this mostly emanates from childhood sexual abuse or sexual violation. Any person who was violated or even abused as a child may find it difficult to have healthy conversations around the children on matters sex and sexuality because unconsciously it reminds them of the pain caused by their own experiences.

How does one heal child sexual abuse so that they can parent better?

Sexual abuse in childhood does not heal by remembering it. That is just one step and a very necessary one. Healing is a journey and a process and one needs a professional who is competent in handling child sexual abuse.

What is normal behavior for children between 3 years to 6 years?

Normal here means natural, nothing to worry about. It doesn’t imply  that its acceptable.

  1. Masturbation (touching of genitals) in private or in public.
  2. Wanting to see (and sometimes to touch) the other children’s genitals.
  3. Showing genitals to peers.
  4. Standing/sitting too close (to anyone, parents of opposite gender or even strangers of opposite gender).
  5. Trying/struggling to view adult nudity.

Should any of the normal behavior be punished?

The answer is no. If you punish a child for doing any of these, then you either lack information, or you have unresolved issues with your own sexuality.

What needs to be done?

Sex education should start latest 3 years of age.

While training starts at 3 years, sex education needs to continue until young adulthood depending on your child’s capacity and milestones.

At 3 years or slightly below according to your child’s milestones.

These ones learn better using songs or games. I recommend that the children at this stage be taught using a song or a story or a game. I personally use this song:

These are my (private parts *3) These are my private, no one should touch them, no one should see them and no one should lick them.

Demonstrate what touching is, what seeing is and what licking is. While singing, show what the private parts are, preferably by touching.

Repeat until the children get it. At this point begin to teach them how to clean their genital area and also begin to teach them how to dress themselves if you already haven’t. Reward or praise them when they use the potty in private or when they close the toilet. If you do this enough, they learn how to correct the normal behavior and embrace the healthy.

Why keep their parts private?

They are precious so should be kept hidden, let them know they need to touch them only while bathing or urinating ………explain well until your child gets the message.

Do not shame the child for being normal especially when they touch their penis, gently remind on when it needs to be touched.

May I say that by 3 years, children have developed some form of sexual attraction, just that it doesn’t manifest in the way we know it. They become aware of their own sexuality and therefore the masturbation needs not bother anyone. If done excessively, like a child cannot sleep until they have touched their genitals for long, or they masturbate so long in the day, that may point to something else that needs assessment by a child therapist.

At 5 years

At this age, the children need to know the body parts by name as part of consistent sex education. If the parents have spent time connecting emotionally with the child, there is likelihood of getting to know what is happening in the life of the child and that will help a parent to continue giving appropriate sex education.

You may need to have either diagrams, Kids friendly books or simply words as you continue educating them on the names of their private parts. At this point help them to understand that each gender has its own private parts- for boys, name the actual parts and for girls, name the actual parts. Give the correct names like Vagina, Penis etc.

At 6/7 years

Possibility that the child has heard about sex at this point is very high so contrary to what parents believe that the child knows nothing and educating them is corrupting their minds. Part of my sex education to parents has been letting them know if we can pronounce penis and vagina without shame the same way we pronounce leg or nose, then the children will take them as simple body parts.

When we attach negative emotions to the body parts or to sex, we teach them to relate with their sexuality negatively. It is damaging to teach children that some body parts need to be referred to through funny names and not the real names. We are the first best educators of the children and that they carry different subjects with the kind of emotions that we educate them.

Sex education at this point is better done with simple diagrams. Show them that the boys have different sex organs from the girls (some people prefer to use private parts than sex organs). With the simple diagram, either drawn or typed then explain how sex happens. It is easier to educate children about the human body as a whole and that includes the sex organs.

That the Vagina is set in such a way that it accommodates the penis and so the joining together of the Penis and Vagina is what sex is. Many parents argue that this is not different from pornography and my answer is, they are way different. This kind of genuine education is meant to entirely share the truth and prepare children adequately.

After the lessons, let children know that sex is allowed only for the married (personal family values). Some parents believe that sex is allowed after a certain age maybe 18 or 21 so if you feel premarital sex is allowed for adults, then feel free to share that with them. Let your sex education be as factual as possible, so that as they grow, they learn to trust you better. I personally go ahead and share with them that sex is a good thing and a God given gift in marriage.

Why can’t children have sex at this point?

Genuinely, children ask this question and it is important to answer honestly. Their bodies are developing and starting sex early can lead to addictions, diseases, infections. It can also lead to early pregnancies which are harmful when the body is still developing.

Children’s questions

Many that I have done sex education to constantly ask me if we – husband and I – usually have sex. My answer has always been yes, and I add that it is God’s gift for us as the married.

Do we see or touch each other’s privates? and again it’s a yes and that they too will be free to touch when they get married?

What happens if someone tries or violates them in touching, coercing or even luring them into sexual activities? Let the children know you will listen to them, believe them, protect them and that no one can harm them or you. This is because perpetrators use threats of harm or telling the child that no one will believe them.

By Joan Kirera – Family Therapist. For more visit: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera