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Brain Bust to Boost!

Updated: Feb 18

By Lauren Price, M.Ed

What do lack of sleep, frustration, boredom, thirst, and hunger all have in common?

Have you ever been so frustrated that you felt like you couldn't think? It has happened to all of us. We do things we wouldn't normally do under a threatened brain. I know some excellent humans that get behind the wheel and, when frustrated turn into entirely different person honking and caring on. One of these humans is my very own mother. She is one of those people that thinks of other people before herself and does things for people I wouldn't even think of, but if you get in her lane after an already frustrating drive, she turns into a horn-honking maniac.


For those of you that have done baby duty or for me it’s currently on puppy duty, you know about lack of sleep. After those sleepless nights, did you feel forgetful or like you couldn't think? There is even a term for the this baby brain. It is due to the lack of sleep.


Finally, we have all been there just plain bored. It reminds me of visits with my grandad. This doesn't sound good, but I promise I had heard the stories many times over, but he would still call me out in true grandaddy fashion. “Lauren, are you still with me?” I wasn't, but of course, I would say yes.


There is a science behind what is going on in our brains in each of these examples. The oldest part of our brain is taking over for survival. Our amygdala is in charge, which if escaping a lion is helpful, but driving, taking care of an infant, or listening to grandaddy, we need the thinking part of our brains. Our human brains see the threat as frustration (I get this one, the driver), basic needs unmet (sleepy parent), or boredom (this one surprises me; I am actually in threat mode listening to grandaddy's repeated stories)?


When our brains are in this threatened state, our amygdala takes over and send us into fight, flight, or freeze mode. We can't access the prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of our brains) in this state. Therefore, the sleepless parent can't find their keys, my mom honks, and I can't listen to grandad. Now, let's equate that to our students.


Frustrated Student:

  • Text message from a friend

  • Frequent past mistakes

  • Technology (maybe this one is just me)

  • Social media

  • Being called on and not knowing the answer

Student without Basic Needs:

  • Thirsty or hungry

  • Feeling unsafe (at home or school)

  • Staying up too late with technology or studying

Bored Student

  • Doesn't relate to the content

  • Already learned content

  • Doesn't have foundational knowledge

So, that is all the bad news: if our students are frustrated, bored, or don't meet their basic needs, they can't learn.


What can you do about it? Better yet, what can THEY do about it?


Step 1: Recognize the threat -> am I frustrated, bored, hungry, thirsty, tired, unsafe?

Step 2: What is the threat?

Basic Need - fix it!

Frustration -> What type of frustration? Ruminating thoughts or just irritated?

· Ruminating -> Get brain out of repeated thoughts by things like saying ABC's backward or doing a MadLibs or Suduko

· Irritation -> Add dopamine like mindful breathing, exercise, or music

Boredom -> help students make personal connections, give them a choice, and grab attention by presenting in exciting ways.

Step 3: Track and see what works and when.


We need to teach our students to manage their threats now, so they are prepared as they grow into adults. They need years of practice! With so much anger and frustration these past years, let's encourage these young humans to manage their threats.


We all experience our amygdala’s taking over as teachers or a parent. It is important for us to also listen to our bodies. This is an excellent opportunity to model what to do when your amygdala is fired. You can practice some of these strategies and try them with your students. Mirror neurons are real. :) As a class or family, start some daily strategies. You can try our handout in your classroom.


I will teach my mom, you teach your students.


Happy brain boosting!


Quick Reminders for Teachers or Parents:

  1. Remind parents about sending students to school with basic needs met.

  2. Allow and encourage water bottles in your class (drinking eight oz. of water reduces stress and anxiety within 5 minutes).

  3. No phones in class (a glass at one text message will have students gone for the entire class).

  4. No phones during homework.

  5. What type of frustration? Rumination (ABC backwards) Irritation (add dopamine)

  6. Recognize threat takes practice -> track it!


Try and Track- Dopamine
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