Build a world with kindness and compassion

I just went over your article and I don’t even know where to start (“Children need boundaries to grow”, May 4). I am a single parent and have two boys, aged 5 and 16. My kids don’t have boundaries.

Raising children with love, which includes discipline and boundaries, is never easy. It requires parents to be able to be very thoughtful and to act with discernment including when to be loving and speak in a loving tone but to also know when they need to be firm and set firm and non-negotiable limits with their children.

If you have not grown up with parents who parented you with love and discipline, this task of parenting can be even more difficult to undertake. In addition, having to raise children, especially boys, as a single mother really can complicate this already daunting task. But, it can be done. I know many single mothers who have raised their sons to become exemplary men in the world.

A very close to home and good example is Nelson Mandela whose father died at a young age and his mother, with the help of his uncle, raised him to become an icon for many people.

I believe one of the most important things to do as a single mother is to find your strength within. You are strong “by nature”, and this example of courage and strength are seen by your children. They need you to believe in yourself and your abilities as a mother and homemaker. Children internalise what they see on a day to day basis.

Regularly give them your time and attention, take an interest in them and let them know with actions and words that they are loved.

However, love also includes setting limits, so I would advise you to review your approach to discipline.

Are you too soft and nag or beg them to do chores and tasks? Do you follow up on what you expected from them? Do you give in to their every demand? Or are you shouting and screaming at them or insulting them, or even hitting them? These approaches are shown not to work, especially with teenagers.

Discipline is not punishment, instead it encompasses highly positive elements such as learning, teaching, guiding and socialising our children to become well-adjusted individuals. Firmness in setting clear, consistent boundaries is vital. With your children having all the power (permissive parenting) or the other extreme, where you have all the power with harsh and punitive measures (autocratic parenting), makes a “‘difficult” child even more rebellious.

The aim is a more democratic style of parenting, where you and your children share the power age appropriately. With this style, boundaries are clear, fair and firm and the children are left feeling secure contained and happy. Limits and rules, which are consistent and are adhered to at all times by all involved, are essential aspects of a self-disciplined and organised life.

As we go through life, even as adults, we need the security of boundaries, whether it is knowing our role at work, how we drive our cars and how we manage our relationships and money. We all need predictability to make us feel safe and securely balanced.

I would like to know if you can help me. My son, who is 14 years old, has a habit of always sitting on his own in his room after school. He hardly talks and that worries me. He gets angry very quickly.

When children go through the developmental phase of adolescence it can be challenging for them to deal with the sudden explosion of cognitive and emotional changes linked to brain development and hormonal shifts.

Many parents worry about their children who are changing and becoming either more outgoing or more withdrawn and isolated, or both.

Often these are linked to the teenagers’ need for socialising with friends but sometimes many of them may fear this push to engage with others, as well as many developing all other kinds of insecurities which become particularly pronounced during this phase in their lives. However, I am concerned that you say he “never talks” and “gets angry quickly”.

I wonder that perhaps he has/is going through an experience that may be overwhelming for him and frightens him but he is too afraid to share this with anyone for fear of being judged.

So he withdraws into his room for safety. I would suggest that you sit with him (with nobody else around) or take him out somewhere quiet like the beach, and let him know that you are concerned out of love for him. Respectfully explore what could be bothering him. Reassure him that you love him and will not judge him or think bad of him, whatever he shares with you.

Let him know that problems carried alone get heavier and heavier, until it feels that the person cannot go on anymore and they feel isolated from the world.

Let him know he is not alone, you are there for him, and others too but you need him to know he can talk to you or a professional helping people with emotional problems such as a trained psychologist or counsellor.

Keep the communication lines open with him at all times, even if he ignores you or does not want to talk to you. Just keep on reminding him you are there to listen, no matter what.

One day, he may surprise you and just come out with it, whatever “it” may be.

I just want to compliment you on your articles – it’s really crucial for people to know these things about human nature. I can honestly say I learn a lot from your articles.

Thank you! We all need to know and learn about the most important factors that keep us as individuals and families and communities intact, our hearts and minds.

Freud, the “father” of psychoanalysis, said 95 to 97 percent of our actions are motivated by unconscious processes. When we don’t know our minds and emotions we are more prone to acting out and hurting ourselves and others, and are often more thoughtless instead of making well-considered choices and actions, with not just ourselves in mind but also whoever else it will impact on. If our inner world makes more sense to us, we can be with ourselves and others in ways that are respectful, kind and compassionate. A world without kindness and compassion is a very sad one indeed.

* This column will appear every two weeks. Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist in private practice. While she cannot enter into correspondence with individual readers, she will try to answer as many queries as possible through this column or refer you to organisations that can assist.

You can write to her at or send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774. Provide sufficient information about your difficulty.