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Is Your Child’s Lack of Social Confidence Due to a Learning Delay?

Written By Geoff Nixon . June 25, 2022

Understanding Your Child’s Social Confidence

All parents want their children to be confident as learners and in navigating life – socially, sports and attitude to risk.  As they know, confidence breeds success and more confidence. What they might not recognize, is that these different areas of life are often related. In particular, a lack of confidence in learning, a child’s most practiced and used skill, will often spill over into a lack of social confidence.

There are two reasons for this:

  • The same cognitive delays that can hold back learning also impact listening and conversation skills in the playground, for instance.
  • Repeated failure and frustration erodes self-esteem in a way that impacts your child’s approach to everything.

Seeing Delays First in Social Skills

Sometimes learning issues are hard to identify in the first 6-8 years of life. Children know they need to be good readers and good learners, they want to please, and so they can be very creative in covering up underlying difficulties. They might do this by acting out, avoidance or just be developing a guessing strategy that is good enough early on.

Social skills and social confidence are harder to fake – and really, are not on your child’s radar as something to fake to please you. And so, while there are myriad personality traits and experiences that feed into social confidence, it is also true that shyness or social difficulties, including being bullied, might be pointing to a learning delay – listening, language, processing or inattentiveness.

That doesn’t mean that all shy kids struggle with academics – but it’s something to keep an eye on, especially if your child seems to be struggling more than others regarding schoolwork. Today’s article looks closely at the connection between social skills and learning confidence. We’ll also offer tips for helping your child if they seem to be struggling in either area.

Defining Social Skills and Confidence

Before we can explore the connection between social skills and academic confidence, we need to define each term.

Social Skills

When referring to social skills, we are talking about the ability to interact effectively with others. This includes both verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as being able to understand and respond to the emotions of others.

Social skills are mainly learned through observation and imitation during childhood and adolescence. Children watch how adults interact with each other and then try to mimic those behaviors. As they get older, they begin to experiment with different social interactions and develop their unique communication style.

Some children have trouble in specific areas of social skills. For example, they may be comfortable around their long-term classmates but might be uncomfortable in other situations such as meeting strangers or talking to the opposite sex.

Other children might have more general social skills difficulties, such as not being able to read nonverbal cues or having difficulty knowing how to start and end conversations.


Another broad term, confidence, encompasses a belief in oneself and one’s abilities, and the approach to life that comes from that self-esteem. This shows up in both academic ability (such as intelligence and skills) and personal qualities (such as dedication and willpower).

A healthy level of confidence helps learning. Confident learners are risk takers, willing to take on new challenges, learning new skills, even understanding they might not do well starting out. Confident learners are also able shrug off difficulty, and not dwell on mistakes.

It’s an approach that is self-fulfilling, sometimes called the Matthew Effect. Embracing new things with gusto is more likely to lead to success, whereas a less confident learner, more focused on a fear of failure, might have a tentative approach that will not yield the same results. Resilience and confidence are entwined.

This approach to learning in the early years can become an approach to life later on. Note however, absolute confidence varies for each individual depending on the task at hand. For example, a student who is confident in their math skills might feel less confident when they have to give a speech in front of the class.

Finding Learning Delays in Social Skills – What to Look For

Approach to Learning

Academic confidence is a vital piece of the puzzle. It refers to a student’s belief in their ability to succeed in school. Like social confidence, academic confidence can fluctuate depending on the situation. For most middle and high schoolers, grades mean much less than the reaction of their peers or parents.

The approach to learning can sometimes be a better “tell” of a learning delay than actual academic performance, where children are able to disguise learning difficulties into 3rd or 4th grade.  If your child’s approach to learning is tentative, it might tell you she sees the task as too hard or even Mission Impossible.  This attitude might stem from a learning delay – your child knows he or she is faking it, and doesn’t want to be found out with new challenges.

Vocabulary Gaps

A vocabulary gap refers to when a child knows fewer words than their peers. It can lead to difficulties in understanding others, participating in conversations, and expressing oneself effectively.

Children with smaller vocabularies are also more likely to be shy and withdrawn in social situations. They might feel like they can’t keep up with the conversation and are afraid of saying something wrong. This can be a clue of a language processing delay that is impacting their vocabulary acquisition.


One of the most common signs of a child lacking confidence is withdrawal. This can manifest itself in several ways, the most common being a child who refuses to participate in a class or social activities.

A child who lacks confidence may also avoid eye contact, shrink away from physical affection, or have trouble making and keeping friends. Withdrawal can signify that a child feels insecure, unworthy, or doesn’t know how to act in social situations.


Another sign that a child lacks confidence is disinterest. This can be manifested in a child who no longer wants to participate in activities they once enjoyed or a sudden drop in grades. A child needing confidence may also appear bored, listless, or unengaged in their surroundings.

This can be a sign that the child feels they are not good enough or that they don’t belong.  A lack of interest in new hobbies or sports for instance, can be indicative of learning delays that make these pursuits much harder than you might think, e.g., difficulty listening to a coach might turn a child off a sport they might otherwise enjoy. Again, use disinterest as a clue of a learning delay.


Anxiety is another common sign of a lack of confidence. This can manifest itself in a number of ways, including physical symptoms such as nausea, sweating, and shaking.  A child with anxiety may also have trouble sleeping and/or eating, leading to further academic and social problems. Anxiety can be a sign that a child feels they are not capable or that they are in over their head.

In a way, anxiety is the most visible pointer of a learning delay.  A child who experiences learning difficulty can see trouble ahead and experience anxiety, merited or not, in many situations where their difficulties might be exposed.

Building Your Child’s Confidence

While you can nurture confidence, it has to come fom a real place.  You cannot cheerlead a child to a confident attitude if that child knows she does not have the goods.

And so to the starting point always should be a learning check, making sure there are no learning issues at play. And if there are reading issues or learning issues, you should consider a learning or reading intervention like Gemm Learning,.

Other things you can do to help your child build social confidence, include:

  • Encourage practice –  try small groups at home in a safe space
  • Use other strengths to build social skills – help your child apply any particular interest or skill to social situations – teams, clubs, informal neighborhood groups
  • Try positive self-talk – there are limits to this, and it has to be grounded in reality, but help your child see setbacks as temporary.

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