The Power of Incidental and Explicit Learning

Incidental and Explicit learning are powerful tools for your parenting toolbox. Once mastered, you can use them to teach your child almost anything!

Children sometimes get it, and sometimes don’t. This applies to all children in all areas of social development.

Children with neurobiological challenges do not always learn in a natural way. Therefore, explicit instruction in social skills is necessary.

How Incidental or Natural Learning Works

Natural, or incidental learning , takes place through observation and application of a desired behavior.

For example: a child watches a friend ask to join a group of children playing at recess. The child mimics the skills and behaviors first child used, and asks the same group of students to join in. If the group lets them in, the incidental learning was successful. They get to move up the social ladder called acceptance.

However, if they are not aware of the nonverbal behavior involved in relationships, such as tone of voice, it can ruin their chances for inclusion. Instead of asking to play in a nice tone, they demand in a loud, commanding voice.

Can you see why it might be beneficial to practice and explicitly instruct your child on how to use tone of voice? It can be ANY of the social skills.

If it seems they are having a hard time, but you’re not sure where, keep an observation log . Given enough time, a pattern will appear. Once you see the pattern, then you can work on the problem.

Explicit Learning

Explicit learning takes place exactly how it sounds; explicitly. The skill or behavior is taught, practiced and applied. Social Stories are a great way to practice skills. We used them a lot, and sometimes, we even write our own!

Using the example of tone of voice, an adult can remediate this behavior. The trick is to find a time when your child is calm and receptive, and shortly before the desired activity is to take place.

1. Sit down with your child when they appear to be receptive.

2. Explain that kids like to hear a happy voice, not a demanding one, when playing.

3. Model what each voice sounds like.

4. Have them practice with the same voices.

5. Practice how they could ask children to join in a game using a nice voice and questions.

6. If possible, have an interactive session soon after.

7. Later that day, ask them how it worked. Let them verbalize how things went.

Most children learn by incidental learning. However, for the child with neurobiological differences, this type of learning may not work because of the unspoken nuances and details.

If they don’t pick up on these subtleties, the relationships will not work out quite right. They will move down the social ladder in the form of rejection.