Endorphins are natural chemicals produced in the body to reduce pain and boost happiness. They are most often associated with exercise since the release of these “feel-good” chemicals cause a state of euphoria and is usually known as a “runner’s high.” However, most any exercise will cause this state of happiness and it is also boosted through laughter and excitement.
In recent years, studies involving endorphins have begun to focus on how this chemical contributes to learning. Physical activity is essential to brain development. Basically, when we feel good, we learn better. Intellectually stimulating the brain when endorphins have been released, helps even more. For the last five years, neuroscientists have been encouraging parents and teachers to work on stimulating the good feeling chemicals in the brain. The mind-body connection is a powerful thing.
When working with children and teens, it’s important to remember this and help develop the whole self. By stimulating the positive neurotransmitters in the body, we will combat the cortisol and, therefore, have more happy children and teens. Physical activity leads to happiness, happiness leads to better learning, better learning leads to increased knowledge, increased knowledge leads to more confidence and so on.
Now that we understand the neuroscience surrounding endorphins, how can we, as parents, teachers, coaches, and anyone who works with children, use this information? We must create a learning environment that releases endorphins so that students apply more effort and are better able to focus.
Our program does this by teaching with the brain in mind and utilizing game-based learning. Along with this, two of the teaching skills that are used in class are specifically designed to increase the students’ endorphin levels.
1) Up The Rep: The use of “up the rep” as a teaching skill in class helps the students have more energy throughout an exercise, which ultimately leads to them exhibiting more effort. For example, if students are practicing side kicks on a bag and they are told to do 50, the goal is for the 50th kick to be the best one. However, students often start out full speed and their energy depletes as they get closer to the 50th rep. The best thing to do is have them start out their reps easier and increase their power as they get to 50. That way they end with their best one yet! This gives the students a rush of endorphins and they finish the exercise feeling stronger.
2) Neurobics: The use of “neurobics” in class helps the students by increasing their neural stimulation and, therefore, they become more focused. For example, if the students are doing pushups, instead of counting to 10, count in colors or characters, or even count backwards. This will increase the neural firing in their brains and keeps their minds from wondering.
By utilizing these techniques, the endorphins in the students’ brains increase, and then they feel better and, therefore, learn better. The combination of having more energy and being cognitively stimulated leads to more effort and focus in class!
Have you ever had a “gut feeling” about something? Have you ever considered that children have these as well? Of course they do! The problem is, they don’t know how to express this to us. They know something doesn’t feel right, so they act out or exhibit a grumpy mood. The good news is, there is a way to boost their mood and reinforce positive behavior choices.
Serotonin, also known as the “feel good” neurotransmitter, plays a part in our wellbeing and is important in balancing mood. Ninety percent of the serotonin in our bodies is produced in the gut. This is because the gut and the brain were developed from the same embryo cell line and continue to communicate through the vagus nerve. This explains why the gut is often referred to as the “second brain” and where the phrase “gut feeling” comes from.
In recent studies serotonin levels have been found to also affect memory and learning. In addition to this, it helps build new neuropathways in the brain which supports the ability to learn new information more quickly. When there are higher levels of serotonin, moods are better and, therefore, cognitive functioning is improved. The problem is found when serotonin levels are too low. In children, this can manifest in behaviors such as poor impulse control and inattention.
Now that we understand the neuroscience surrounding serotonin, how can we, as parents, teachers, coaches, and anyone who works with children, use this information? We must create a learning environment that is inviting and form bonds with the children by setting an enthusiastic and positive mood.
Our program does this by teaching with the brain in mind and utilizing game-based learning. Along with this, two of the skills that are used in class are specifically designed to increase the students’ serotonin levels.
1) Choices: The use of “choices” as a teaching skill in class helps the students build satisfaction because they have a say in what they are doing and, therefore, their excitement to do things increases. For example, when working on forms in class, if the instructor tells the students to do their forms for 15 minutes, they probably aren’t going to be that excited. But, if the instructor tells the students they can choose from doing their forms with weights, slow motion, backwards, or progressively, then the student will be more excited about getting to make their decision regarding this. And, they will then be more satisfied with the overall experience.
2) Redirection: The use of “redirection” in class helps the students feel more accomplished and, therefore, happier. For example, if you have a student in class that doesn’t always sit the best during mat chats, the instructor can say “When I count to three, let’s see who can sit faster than Johnny.” This student will be prompted to sit correctly and then he will feel more accomplished by showing how quickly he can sit correctly.
By utilizing these techniques, the instructors are increasing the students’ serotonin, which helps them become more satisfied in their accomplishments and it reinforces their good behaviors.
OXYTOCIN: The Key To Positive Social Relationships in Children and Teens
Oxytocin has been dubbed the “love chemical.” It is the hormone that is released when we feel love and trust in relationships. For most people, they know oxytocin as a significant part of the parent-child bonding process. However, it is also very important in overall human relationships and is considered our “social glue.”
The release of oxytocin is not automatic but rather, a learned response. It is very important for children to develop an effective oxytocin response. We find that when children are abused or neglected, they often have underdeveloped oxytocin responses. This is because they have been locked in the fight or flight response and have not developed the oxytocin response to calm down. Therefore, bonding is very important to children in the early years of life.
This bonding, that significantly comes through the parent-child relationship, can also be nurtured through positive interactions with adults such as teachers, coaches, and anyone who works with them on a regular basis. Since oxytocin is an anti-stress chemical, children who feel love and trust with important adults in their lives are better able to cope with stress and are more open. These positive feelings also contribute to a more positive self-image and increased empathy. This creates an upward spiral of positive social relationships.
Now that we understand the neuroscience surrounding oxytocin, how can we, as parents, teachers, coaches, and anyone who works with children, use this information? We must create a learning environment that is safe and increases the child’s “social satisfaction.”
Our program does this by teaching with the brain in mind and utilizing game-based learning. Along with this, two of the teaching skills that are used in class are specifically designed to improve the students’ oxytocin response system by increasing their social skills and empathy.
1) Healthy Competition: The use of “healthy competition” as a teaching skill in class helps the students’ make connections with their peers and gives them a “tribe” type bond. For example, when running a drill, the instructor may run it as girls vs. boys or long hair vs. short hair groups. This helps the students develop social connections, so they work together and trust each other to do the best for the team.
2) Extrinsic Motivation: The use of “extrinsic motivation” in class helps the students become more self-disciplined. For example, to get students more motivated, the instructor can say “If you do your form five times without any mistakes, I’ll do 10 pushups.” This is exciting for the students because it helps them to see the instructor as more vulnerable by having to do pushups. They develop the self-discipline to get their form correct so they can get the reward of seeing the instructor do pushups, which is fun for them.
The important thing to keep in mind is that our brains can develop a healthier oxytocin response at any age. It won’t happen overnight and will take time and effort on the part of the adult but the benefits for the child will be incredible. Creating environments that foster trust will make this process easier. Remember, even the smallest friendly interactions, such as fist bumps and high fives, can release oxytocin.
Have you ever wondered why children and teens seem to be so addicted to their smart phones and other devices? Parents are frustrated with their children’s lack of attention and motivation but what do their devices have to do with this? The answer is found in science!
Often referred to as the “motivator molecule,” dopamine is a “feel good” chemical that is released in the brain which helps us focus and feel motivated. When dopamine levels are low, it can result in symptoms such as difficulty focusing, decreased motivation, trouble problem-solving, and social anxiety. Therefore, many ADHD medications target dopamine levels.
When children and teens have low dopamine levels, we often find that they spend more time on video games and smartphone apps, and some tend to be thrill seekers. These things give a boost of dopamine, which makes them feel good and then leads to them seeking out more of the same thing. This constant boost of dopamine keeps them coming back for more.
The reason is because dopamine is part of the reward pathway of the brain. When something is interesting or exciting, a surge of dopamine rushes to the brain. Much like the excitement we feel when we are preparing for a trip or waiting for dessert, the anticipation of receiving a reward tells the brain to release dopamine. This release tells our brain that this event is worth getting more of. And so, the cycle begins.
The great thing about dopamine is that it can help modify behavior in a positive way, when done correctly. Because of the pleasure that dopamine makes us feel, we are more motivated to learn and, therefore, we retain information better. This is because the dopamine creates new neurological pathways in the brain. When we find activities that are pleasurable, we learn more from them and keep doing them.
Now that we understand the neuroscience surrounding dopamine, how can we, as parents, teachers, coaches, and anyone who works with children, use this information? We must create a learning environment that is exciting and produces the “anticipation of accomplishment.”
Our program does this by teaching with the brain in mind and utilizing game-based learning. Along with this, two of the techniques that are used in class are specifically designed to increase the students’ dopamine levels.
1. Trickery: The use of “trickery” as a teaching skill in class helps the students focus, which ultimately leads to better listening skills. For example, when playing a game and the students are waiting for the instructor to say “go,” the instructor can trick the students by saying “goose” or “go cart” instead. This excites the students but also motivates them to listen better and, therefore, be more focused.
2. Intrinsic Motivation: The use of “intrinsic motivation” in class helps the students become more motivated, which leads to more confidence. For example, to get students more motivated from within, the instructor can say “You only have to do 5 pushups but if you want to be a Black Belt do 10 pushups, if you want to be a master do 5 pushups, but if you want to make me and your parents proud and show you are the best student, do 20 pushups.”
By utilizing these techniques, students get a rush of dopamine because they anticipate the events in class, stay focused, listen better, and are motivated to do their best. They feel good in class and they come back wanting more!