Learning From The Practical Wisdom Your Parents Offer

Updated June 1, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Does Your Practical Wisdom Include When To Ask For Help?

Many people use the knowledge passed down from their parents or guardians as children when making decisions as an adult, sometimes without consciously noticing it. Practical wisdom is also called phronesis, and it can help you make decisions by using the accumulated experience you’ve gained up to that point in your life. Read on to learn more about how your lessons as a child can influence you as an adult—and how to unlearn the teachings you don’t want.  

What Is Practical Wisdom?

The theory of phronesis can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who said it was the highest of the intellectual virtues. He proposed that practical wisdom—knowing what reactions would be good, right, or best in a given situation—allows a person to make an informed ethical decision. When you take the time to react thoughtfully to your situation and make a judgment about the best action to take, you’re using practical wisdom.

Aristotle’s methods of arriving at truth include

  • Art (ars, techne) or the fine arts
  • Science (episteme) or teachable knowledge
  • Intuition (nous) or intellect
  • Wisdom (sophia) or a finished form of knowledge with a combination of intellect and accumulated teachable knowledge
  • Prudence (phronesis) or practical wisdom that allows the perception and understanding of effective ways to act benevolently and beneficently

How Do You Accumulate Practical Wisdom?

You can develop your practical wisdom in many ways since it is the sum of your knowledge and experience. It includes the knowledge gained as a child from your parents or guardians, throughout school, your encounters and past decisions, and any other way you learn. However, this article centers on using the practical wisdom gained from your caregivers as a child. A recent study conducted in-depth interviews with nine retirees to demonstrate how a person’s practical wisdom grows as they age. 

The Benefits Of Learning From Your Parents

As you gain more experience and practical wisdom, you will be able to apply it to your decisions in everyday life. From the technical skills, such as cooking or sewing, to the moral values that shape your conscience and behavior patterns, you can learn many things from your parents that benefit you as an adult. 

It can thus be said that practical wisdom from your parents can help you navigate the world as an adult in a way that is practical in the literal sense – understanding the basics of how to function in society as an individual – and in the figurative sense – understanding how to be a “good person” in society and work for the betterment of yourself and others.

What You Might Learn From Your Childhood Caregivers

Your childhood caregivers are often your first and most influential teachers. You may have learned how to cook, do your laundry, change a tire, balance your bank account, or any number of things from them. This inherited, or institutional knowledge, becomes part of your practical wisdom as it is passed from one generation to the next. 

When To Be Kind

Psychologist Barry Schwartz writes that practical wisdom helps people understand what emotional response to use in a given situation. Even if a situation makes you angry, sad, or confused, practical wisdom gives you the discretion to know how to react. Sometimes, reacting with anger feels natural when you are confronted, but a wise person knows when to express that anger and when to use a different response.

Not only does this piece of practical wisdom help you maintain your relationships, but it also helps you form new ones. With this wisdom, you can interact with the world more with more care and ease.

When To Bend The Rules

Just like the idea of flexibility, my parents also taught me how to know when to bend the rules. Although we often assume that breaking the rules always results in chaos, the actual world is far more complicated than that. Most decisions exist in a gray area that cannot be contained by the rules and procedures that we have.

When To Be Flexible

Flexibility is one crucial lesson you may have learned as a child. Adapting to a given situation and changing your way of thinking to account for new information is valuable. It can make it much easier to navigate the world as an adult. There is practical wisdom in knowing when to be flexible and make allowances for the circumstances. Flexibility gives you the tools to handle many situations, while wisdom and experience can guide your actions and reactions. 

When Not To Do It Yourself

Robust practical wisdom includes an accurate view of your own concrete skills. While your parents may have taught you to use a drill or patch a hole in the wall, that doesn’t mean you have the skill to build a house yourself without training. Knowing when you possess the knowledge to handle something can be helpful in a wide variety of situations. Sometimes, it is far easier and more cost-effective to call a professional from the start rather than after you make a costly mistake by attempting a repair beyond your ability. This can help you evaluate your capacity in many areas of your life, potentially helping you avoid commitments you cannot fulfill. Awareness of when not to act can sometimes be as powerful as action. 

When To Get Help

Another aspect of practical wisdom is knowing when to seek help to manage your emotions and stress in healthy ways. Your accumulated knowledge helps you navigate the world more effectively. However, no amount of practical wisdom can prevent the effects of mental health conditions, many of which are entirely beyond your control. Parents often teach their children to recognize, understand, and process their emotions, which is called emotional intelligence. This can be enormously useful as you go through life. However, many people need help to manage their feelings and build effective coping skills. Practical wisdom includes knowing when to get emotional support from a qualified mental health professional to preserve your well-being. 

Does Your Practical Wisdom Include When To Ask For Help?

How Your Childhood Lessons Affect Ethical Adult Decision-Making

Your sense of ethics, or right and wrong, is likely heavily influenced by your parents’ moral values because that behavior was presented as the acceptable norm during your formative years. For example, suppose your parents exposed you to various human experiences, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter or nursing home. In that case, you may be more willing to look at a situation from another’s perspective. You draw on your accumulated experience and practical wisdom when considering the past to find the best solution to your dilemma. A substantial portion of that wisdom was passed down from your elders, and it can influence your decision-making process, according to a recent study

Using Practical Wisdom For Contextual Thinking

2021 study suggests that when we encounter a gap between our moral knowledge and potential action, phronesis can provide contextual wisdom to help us make an informed decision. You can use your past experiences in similar situations to help determine the best course of action.

Unlearning Negative Childhood Lessons

Unfortunately, everyone didn’t learn positive lessons from their childhood caregivers. It is often necessary to unlearn these teachings, and psychotherapy can help. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying and replacing unhealthy or harmful thought patterns and behaviors. Working with a qualified therapist can also offer support and guidance as you process the emotions related to the undesired traits. 

How Therapy Can Help Develop Your Practical Wisdom

Many people have found that working with a licensed therapist online can help develop emotional intelligence and literacy, allowing them to identify, understand, and communicate their feelings. Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp offer flexible appointment formats, including phone, video call, and asynchronous online chat, so you can easily fit therapy into your busy schedule. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one treatment method to address undesired thought patterns and behaviors. According to recent studies, online CBT can be an accessible, effective alternative to treatment in the traditional clinical setting. Many patients said they could open up more easily with the added physical distance, and the convenience of online appointments made it possible to attend therapy more reliably. 


You likely learned many things growing up that influence how you think and act as an adult. The information in this article may offer insight into how the practical wisdom you were given as a child benefit you. It may also make you think of the lessons you wish to pass down to your own children if you have them.

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