Advice to your kids from Epictetus

Let’s be honest. Or as the kids nowadays would post on Instagram, TBH. As adults and parents, we DO NOT have it all figured out. We are not all-knowing, and we certainly aren’t perfect. So just because a title of an article makes you think something is advice to your kids, and it is, doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it as well. The problem is that many of these life lessons that we as parents learn, are not shared with our kids early enough. Sure, our kids learn more from observations than they do from our words, but it is also effective to share some profound knowledge with them from time to time. When we do, we may actually gain a better understanding of ourselves through the process and create some positive synergy with them.

Epictetus was a stoic philosopher who lived from AD 55 to 135. He believed that philosophy is a way of life. In arguably his most influential work, The Enchiridion, also known as The Handbook, Epictetus taught many lessons about different aspects of life. However, while the knowledge and teachings presented in The Enchiridion were from Epictetus, the writing was actually compiled by his pupil, Arrian. Arrian followed Epictetus around and wrote down many of the words that he spoke. Today, The Enchiridion is held in very high regard by many around that world, and it is still used today to teach and influence many.

The most interesting thing to me about stoicism, and all philosophy, is that the individuals who studied and taught these ideas many years ago were dealing with the same thoughts and issues many of us face today. The times were completely different. Yet through the discovery of America, the growth to 50 states, and the thousands of technological advances, our inner problems as human beings remain constant. The inner struggles that sometimes plague our thinking have never been completely solved. Thus, the teachings are still relevant today and can be a very useful tool in simplifying our hectic lives.

And yes, our children can learn from Epictetus and other philosopher of the past. Now many of these teachings should be screened by parents before sharing with their kids as they use language and details that were relevant in their time. If taken literally, it is not necessarily the greatest imagery to create in a child’s mind. Though the lessons as a whole can be incredibly beneficial, even to kids.

While the life lessons of Epictetus are many, I want to focus on one particular idea that is extremely useful to children in today’s world. Here is a quote from The Enchiridion:

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions. The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. -Epictetus, The Enchiridion

Children have a tendency, being raw and innocent human beings, to blame themselves for many of the problems going on in their life. Take, for example, a divorce or custody dispute. A young child stressing through these adult issues invariably blames his or herself for the problems affecting their mom and dad. They often feel like they are the cause of the discord. Another example, on a level of lesser importance, is that children typically blame themselves for the way a coach or teammate treats them on the playing field. Further, they can feel like a failure if they miss the lay-up or miss the game winning shot.

The problem with this methodology of self-blame and creating worry is that it negatively affects their mindset and their decisions. Also, it is groomed and perfected throughout life. Not only does it cause unneeded stress, but it also forces our children to be predisposed for the future. By the time they get to be adults, they are experts in this field of worrying about things outside of their control. So then, teaching children this lesson from Epictetus is of great importance.

As Epictetus explains, there are things in our control and other things that are not. Simply put, in life there are things that are up to us, and things that are not up to us. Teach your children to only focus on what is up to us, and what they can control. Some things that are up to us include attitude, work ethic, pursuit, desire, perspectives and decisions. These are really the only things they can control at home, in the classroom, or on the playing field. Things that are not up to us include tragedy, chance, judgments, and reactions of others. The trick is focusing on and perfecting that which we can control, and not being concerned with that which we cannot.

There are many other skills and lessons from Epictetus and other ancient stoic philosophers that we can teach our children. This one in particular could be used as a foundation for the rest of their life. Be concerned about your attitude, not someone’s reaction to you. Be cognizant of the worthiness of your decisions, not how someone will think about you. I am not saying they should have a complete disregard for what people think. That is not 100% true. However, they should focus more on having a good attitude and making good decisions based on their own values and learning. In life, if they figure out how to do this as a child, they will be better off than most adults down the road.


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