Our daughter Stella turned 5 today. When her mom asked her what she wants to be when she grows up, she said “kind.”
That makes me very happy.
Stella doesn’t realize it, but her answer is one that ancient Stoic philosophers like Epictetus would have approved of.
Epictetus taught that the way to find real happiness is by only wanting stuff that’s completely in our control.
Being an astronaut or a firefighter or a veterinarian? That’s not totally up to us, because circumstances 𝘰𝘶𝘵 of our control could prevent it, no matter how hard we try.
But being kind? Now that’s something that we always have complete control of, regardless of what circumstances we find ourselves in.
I’ve written before about how Stoicism seems to come naturally to some people. But many of the folks who we think of as “natural born Stoics” are older adults, and their Stoic attitudes are the result of a lifetime of experience.
Children aren’t very good at controlling their emotions or analyzing their initial reactions, but there are some types of Stoic thinking that come naturally to kids.
Staying focused on what’s happening in the moment — and not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future — can be tough for adults. But for children, that kind of mindset is often second nature.
There are some great Stoicism children’s books out there (including my Stoic fable The Stock Horse and the Stable Cat) that you could read and discuss with your kids, of course. But something a bit less direct is often more effective.
The best way to teach kids about Stoicism isn’t by sitting them down and giving them a philosophy lesson. Instead, watch for stuff they do and say that reflects a Stoic mindset, and make a point of telling them that you admire them for it.
After all, it doesn’t really matter if our kids end up knowing the history of ancient philosophy or the names of the great Stoic thinkers. The important thing is that they learn to think Stoically and have a happier, fuller life because of it.