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7 tips to ease SATs stress for SEND children

Mother helping child revise
During SATs season parents strive to convey the importance of exams without overwhelming their children, especially those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Helen Spiers, child and adolescent counsellor and Head of Counselling at Mable Therapy, gives her expert advice.

There’s a variety of reasons that exams can feel more challenging for children with SEND. They may need extra support with time management, they may find it hard to maintain attention and focus or they may struggle to process information. This can all add to their exam anxiety - so how can parents help them to achieve their best? 

Use positive language

The language we use about exams can have a significant impact on a child's self-confidence so it’s crucial we use positive language. Instead of focusing on their challenges or limitations, highlight their strengths and capabilities, emphasising the progress they’ve made throughout their education journey. This will instil a sense of confidence and optimism in your child, allowing them to approach their exams with a positive mindset.

Build strong links with the school

Encourage open communication with their school. Share any concerns you have, ask them what you can be doing to help and share strategies that you find effective in supporting your child. Work together to create an individualised plan that addresses their specific needs during their exams. As their parent, you’re the expert on your child and will be able to offer valuable insight into how they learn best.

Create a positive learning environment

Foster a positive home environment by creating a designated study area, free from distractions. Establish a routine that allows for breaks and relaxation, and provide emotional support and encouragement throughout. Involve your child in creating this learning environment, asking them how and when they do their best learning. 

Advocate for any special adaptations for children with SEND

There’s several reasons that exams can present additional challenges for children with SEND. These include:

  • Time pressure: many children with SEND require support and strategies, including having extra time, to effectively manage their timings.

  • Attention and focus: maintaining concentration for extended periods can also be difficult. Ensuring they’re given regular breaks and mindfulness exercises can help improve focus.

  • Processing difficulties: for children who have difficulty processing information quickly, having extra time and visual aids can support their understanding and response.

Schools are given strict guidance on how exams are administered. Any changes to this need to be approved ahead of time so it’s essential you have this conversation with the school SENDCo early on, so they have time to apply.

Utilise assistive technology

Assistive technology can be really valuable for children with SEND during exams. Tools such as text-to-speech software, speech recognition software, graphic organisers and mind-mapping tools are all designed to support their learning experience. Again, the SENDCo will need to get approval ahead of time.

Give strategies for managing their stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety can significantly impact a child's performance in exams, so it helps if they have strategies to manage these emotions effectively. Breathing exercises, positive visualisations and progressive muscle relaxation can all be learnt with a quick online search. Physical exercise, a healthy diet and plenty of sleep will also help reduce their stress levels and improve their capacity to retain information. 

Celebrate progress and achievements

Celebrate your child's achievements and progress regardless of their results, letting them know that exams are just one aspect of their educational journey. Focus on all the improvements they’ve made, highlighting areas where they have shown resilience and perseverance. By celebrating their achievements, you reinforce their self-belief and motivation to continue working hard.

In order to best support children with SEND, it’s worth considering your own feelings about taking exams. Maybe you dreaded them and you’re projecting those feelings onto your child? Maybe you excelled in exams and are desperate for them to achieve highly as well? Take some time to think about what exams mean to you so you can ensure you’re not passing on any unnecessary pressure.

Supporting children with exams can be stressful, particularly if there’s additional SEND considerations. While taking care of your child’s mental health, ensure you’re taking care of your own. Talk to your loved ones if you’re feeling overwhelmed and ensure you’re getting time to rest and relax away from your child. By working on your own mental health and exam anxiety, you’ll be helping with their’s too. 


Mable Therapy assists children facing exam stress. Their counsellors offer a safe space for them to process emotions, discover coping techniques, and handle exam pressures effectively.