How growth mindset can help children with SEN

Growth mindset is the belief that you can improve your intelligence, abilities and performance. A growth mindset is beneficial to many different groups of people: teachers, students, professionals, athletes… However, one group that growth mindset may be particularly helpful for is children with Special Educational Needs (SEN).

SEN children find it harder to learn than other children their age, which can lead to a variety of difficulties, including:

  • Struggling with schoolwork;
  • Trouble communicating, including expressing themselves and understanding others;
  • Behaviour problems;
  • Difficulties making friends;
  • Finding it difficult to organise themselves.

So, how can we harness the power of growth mindset to help children experiencing these kinds of difficulties?


Grow their learning

By definition, SEN children struggle with their learning. They may have particular difficulties in certain subjects – for example, claiming that they’re no good at maths. They can get frustrated and demotivated, and often display a fixed mindset belief that they just can’t do it, it’s a lost cause. This can lead them to give up, believing that they are not as bright as others.

Growth mindset helps children to change this view from “I just can’t do it” to “I can’t do it yet“, with the all important “yet” illustrating to children that they can improve and develop their abilities. For example, researchers in this study provided growth mindset training to SEN children and found that it improved their motivation for learning.

Growth mindset also helps children to cope better with mistakes, by seeing setbacks as something that can help them learn and improve, rather than proof that they’re not capable of doing it. This of course, can help SEN children to overcome “stuck points” in their learning, developing their resilience.

Teachers can help with this through praising children for hard work and effort rather than for any natural ability. This helps children to realise their potential and that they can do and learn pretty much anything if they put their mind to it.


Help them manage their own behaviour

As well as learning difficulties, it’s common for SEN children to display some problem behaviours, which often come from them feeling “stuck” in their bodies and minds. When they try to communicate these feelings, it can come out as explosive emotions and behaviours. SEN children may struggle to deal with emotions such as anger and anxiety and end up blaming others for their misbehaviours and emotional outbursts. For example, they might say “he made me angry, so I kicked the chair”, defaulting their kicking the chair on the person who made them angry.

Growth mindset teaches children that they are in control, of their intelligence and performance but of their behaviours too. Developing a growth mindset encourages SEN children to take more responsibility for their own behaviours, allowing them to take control of them. This can reduce their stress and aggression, improve their well-being, help them to deal with their emotions, and improve unhelpful behaviours.


Helps them get through the Coronavirus crisis

Finally, growth mindset can help SEN children to cope with the stresses and worries of the Coronavirus crisis. The pandemic has presented challenges for everyone, but particularly for vulnerable groups, including SEN children. They may be more at risk of falling behind, and more unsettled and stressed by all the change and uncertainty.

Since growth mindset can help children to regulate their emotions better, and help them to see things more positively, developing a growth mindset can help SEN children to be more resilient during these tough times.



Children with Special Educational Needs can experience a variety of difficulties in their lives. Although they may share these difficulties with many other children, such as struggling with classwork, being unable to manage emotions, and misbehaving, it is much harder to undo the negative thinking processes that lead to these difficulties for SEN children than it is for other children.

This is where growth mindset really comes in handy. It can be a powerful tool to allow SEN children to overcome their difficulties and unlock their potential.

So, how can you help your SEN students develop a growth mindset? We have plenty of tips on our blog on how to actually help children develop a growth mindset, but we highly recommend our Growth Mindset teacher CPD workshops for more in-depth strategies and research.

You can also join us on 1st July 2021 for our webinar with Kate Jones and Dr Pippa Busch, where we’ll discuss how to adapt teaching and learning strategies to SEND students. Find out more and book tickets here…

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