How to help your child beat SAT stress

With SATs just around the corner many children might be starting to feel the pressure of expectation for them to do well. In a survey for BBC’s Newsround last year, 87% of children aged 10 and 11 said they feel pressure to do well in their Standard Assessment Tests.

Teachers and schools will be placing great focus on these as they have an impact the school’s ranking in the various league tables – they should be called the School Assessment Tests! However, they don’t have to be a source of stress for your child.

Below are five things each that parents and children can do to beat stress when it comes to SATs.


Keep your perspective

We all want our children to do well, achieve their potential and if we are honest to be near the top of the class. No one likes the being told their child is average or below average.

However, these tests are not the be all and end all. Children develop at different rates and do better at some things than others and that’s OK. My own son William, struggled with maths but in the last year has come into his own and now excels at this and finds spelling more of a challenge. Be patient and keep perspective. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Help them keep perspective

Our children are astute, they pick up on our fears and anxieties and those of other adults. They may well be hearing from teachers how important these tests are and will need your re-assurance that it’s OK and they shouldn’t be worried.

The more you can help them keep a sense of perspective and stay relaxed the more likely they will do better on the day. Children have the same stress response as adults when their emotional limbic system hijacks their thinking and shuts down the logical part of their brain.

It’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen, leaving them able to access their full logical or pre-frontal cortex brain in the tests.

Eat, Play, Sleep

The importance of these three factors should be not understated. A good balanced diet, with plenty of physical play and at least 9 hours sleep a night has a huge role in children’s mental performance at school and their ability to learn.

Make revision fun

I appreciate, after a long day for both children and adults, the idea of doing some extra work, isn’t very appealing. However, encourage your children and you to turn off their TVs and Ipads and spend no more than 15 mins going over something they need to learn in a fun way.

Let your imagination run free; include music, dance, drawings, lists, acronyms, mnemonics or whatever is your child’s preferred style. Helping them re-organise and remember in this way is a trait common to many high-performers.

It’s also a great idea to get your child to teach you what they’ve learnt. It’s one of the best ways to embed learning in anyone, child or adult and boosts self-esteem.

You’ll build their confidence and have some very important parent/child time.

Use visualisation to manage anxiety

My son William has a natural disposition to feeling anxious at times and I’ve found that by teaching him this visualisation technique, he is better able to manage his anxiety.

You can do this by getting them to write their concerns and fears down on a piece of paper. It’s easier to help them feel objective about those when they are down on paper than swirling around in their heads. Then help them talk about them and discuss how they might deal with those. What are their concerns, worries and what will happen if none of them come true.

When you’ve done that, take a tip from Bruce Lee use and then help them destroy the bit of paper (we set fire to William’s – supervised of course!) and then remember doing it and how good it made them feel. They can visualise this repeatedly when they want to feel calmer.


When it comes to children helping them develop the right kind of mindset and mental skills now will benefit them throughout life.

Below are five things you can help them do now to start that process.

Focus on habits not results

Focusing too much on performance creates anxiety. To counter this, help your child focus on developing the high-performance habits that will support what they want to achieve.

Ten minutes of extra reading or spelling practice a night, concentrating 100% in class and not talking with their friends are just two examples.

Activity: Ask your child to complete the following sentence: “If I had the habit of [insert here] then I would be better at [insert performance/goal].” Then help them to develop that habit.

Develop positive self-talk

The things your child thinks to herself (Mindset) will Affect her emotions, which will then influence how she feels Physically which will impact her Performance. This is called the performance MAPP.

All performance MAPPs, good and bad begin with self-talk. To create a good mindset, they need to develop self-talk that empowers them.  Phrases, pictures and words that are positive are the high-octane fuel that will drive them.

What he thinks, will drive his emotions, which influences his behaviour, which impacts his performance.

Activity: Help your child write down a list of empowering phrases about themselves and have them read them out loud two or three times, in the morning and just before they go to sleep. Muhammed Ali believed he was the greatest boxer long before he ever won a fight.

Alongside creating positive self-talk is the ability to recognise when we are having negative thoughts. Research shows that we all, children too, have about 50,000 thoughts a day and 80% of these are negative!

Activity: Have your child write down two ineffective thoughts about their school work they have a tendency to believe. E.g. “I’m not very good at maths.” Help them to come up with strong evidence to debate those thoughts when they pop up again.

By doing these two exercises you can help your child begin to develop a positive mindset around SATS and anything else they face as they go through life.


To help your child keep perspective teach them how to re-frame any situation, in this case the SATS tests. When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.

Help them understand that the worry they be may feeling isn’t caused by the SATS themselves but their interpretation of them. Rather than seeing the SATS as a ‘test’ help them to see the SATS as an ‘opportunity’ to show themselves just how much they do know.

Activity: Teach your son or daughter to master the skill of re-framing by inviting them to answer the following questions:

  • How can doing the SATS make you stronger?

  • What can you learn from this experience?

  • How do you think this can help you in the long run?

  • What can you do about it right now?

Doing this exercise for any event that might be causing your child to worry will help them change their mindset from “oh no!” to “what’s next?”

Lastly, another very good way of developing a productive mindset and confidence is to think three positive things every day. This is an exercise in cognitive behaviour modification or consciously thinking differently!

It’s all too easy dwell on what hasn’t gone well or to think about what we aren’t so good at. So this helps your child think about what they are good at. As a parent, we could also benefit from this too; we sometimes need reminding we are doing a good job!

Activity: Have them think about what they have done today. Write down (3) three things that they think or feel they have done well. They have to be something they have done. It mustn’t be something that has happened to them like their favourite team won, or someone did something nice for them.

It doesn’t have to be something big. Did anyone say thank you or well done to them today? Did they learn something that they didn’t know yesterday? Did they do something nice for or with someone even if they didn’t notice? Did they get praise for paying attention in class?

Have them write three things down each day and keep a record of them so that they can look back over the course of a week or month and see how much they have achieved.

The purpose of this is help your child focus on the positives, their achievements both big and small, rather than on the challenges they face. Even if their achievements are small over time the effect on confidence adds up.

I hope the tools and techniques covered in this post help you and your children. They aren’t hard to do and some may be familiar and common sense to you, however common sense doesn’t mean common practice.

The more you can help get your children into these habits the more mentally strong and resilient they will be.

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