Conventional wisdom when it comes to a teaching-learning process in raising children states:  I (parent) talk/transmit knowledge/information/wisdom and you (child) listen/receive said knowledge/information/wisdom.  The child rearing process is thought of as a one-way transmission-receive valve.

In reality, while knowledge is surely gained in this manner, far greater knowledge—both in terms of quantity and depth –is absorbed and integrated by implication.  That is, the child learns far more about themselves and the world around them by implication or by ‘logic-izing’ their way to the Knowledge.

An Example

Recently my wife and I were having issues with our nine year old daughter in her summer camp.  She was complaining that her counselors were speaking to her and the other campers in a manner that was not respectful and sometimes inappropriate for the age group.  Over several days she came home with additional disturbing anecdotes and an escalation to camp management returned a “we are looking into it” response.implication

In talking with parents of children in other bunks in the camp my wife discovered a bunk where the counselors seemed a good deal more friendly to the children.  As the camp continued to drag its feet in dealing with the situation we told the camp we wanted our daughter switched to the new bunk immediately or we’d take her out of camp.

Setting aside, for a moment, the question of whether you agree with the swiftness and finality with which we requested a bunk change, the point I want to make with this anecdote is that if we truly buy into the ‘learn by implication’ framework and agree that it is the most powerful way by which children learn about the world around them,(and, critically, about themselves), the reason to act swiftly to respond to the situation aside from the obvious removing her from a situation which was not healthy for her, is because our response or lack thereof, communicates a great deal to our daughter, by implication about her importance in the world.

Indeed, if executed correctly, a swift response turns a fairly negative situation into a positive one by ‘communicating by implication’ to her that her well-being and comfort matters.  Crucially, the converse is very much true:  if the situation is left ignored (because it’s a pain to deal with etc) or even dealt with a feet-dragging manner, it communicates to her that she does not matter.  Reality has literally no bearing on the conclusion the child draws.  I see and I conclude.  If I see that my well-being is not that important I conclude I must not matter.  If I see that my well-being is top of mind I conclude that I must matter.


Repeat the process enough and you literally have the very building blocks of what constitutes a humans perception of Self.

The conclusion, therefore is clear: Implication, no matter what we may wish or hope for when it comes to child rearing, is the greatest teacher and creator of Self.

How to Attach the Proper Importance to the ‘Learning by Implication’ Process

With this post I make no proclamation that my wife and I have not made our fair share of mistakes in child rearing, and inadvertently transmitted things by implication we wish we could redo.  But the thing to hold-on-tight-to is that our children are learning constantly by implication whether we are aware of it or not.

I think because it’s not happening in front of our very eyes it’s easy to be dismissive of the degree to which ‘learning by implication’ occurs in children (indeed, in all humans) and we run the risk of undercalculating the extent to which it impacts both upbringing and ongoing interpersonal relationships.   I think, therefore, the way to think about this is by drawing on a comparison from the computer world.

When a computer is ‘running a process’ it is doing a specific task until it is told to stop doing said task.  A computer can run dozens of simultaneous processes at the same time.  So for example, a computer can be told to ‘watch this network and if anyone tries to communicate with me, open a dialog box and sound an alert letting me know what they want’ (an oversimplification but you get the idea).   There is a constant, watchful ‘eye’ that is continuously running, watching for an action and then responding to that action.

In the same way, in children, (and humans in general) there is a ‘process’ that starts at birth and ends at death–a constant watchful eye observing behaviors and drawing conclusions by implication about said behavior.  Our not specifically observing and measuring the process in others makes it no less so.

So at the end of the day, given that a ‘learning by implication’ process is constantly occurring whether we have awareness of it or not, we might as well develop awareness and take steps to ensure that the learnings our children and those around us are logic-izing their way to are ones that we are happy with. I think we can start to achieve this by asking ourselves early and often ‘with this behavior, what am I teaching my child/communicating to this individual by implication?’


One Response to Learning by Implication

  1. fayge says:

    You are right on. Your messages about the messages we convey to the world, and to ourselves is really what defines us as human beings. So many signposts to understanding ourselves. You have powerful insights.
    Spare me the 105 degrees. The message stops there!

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