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Brain Based Behavior Interventions 3BI . Understanding the Fight/Flight Response (FFR) and the Frontal Lobe ( FL) or the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) Developed by: Julie Mendenhall. Understanding the brain and why it matters in the classroom .

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brain based behavior interventions 3bi

Brain Based Behavior Interventions3BI

Understanding the

Fight/Flight Response(FFR)

and the Frontal Lobe (FL) or the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC)

Developed by: Julie Mendenhall


Understanding the brain

and why it matters in the


  • Teaching children how to use their brain to

change their behavior.


What does the brain do?

Are we teaching children about their brains?


For this presentation I will be emphasizing these two areas of the brain:

1. Fight/Flight/Freeze Response(FFR)

2. Frontal Lobe (FL)


When working with children I refer to the FFR as firing off in the back of the brain which is more accurate in the low center of our brain. This is where the hypothalamus responds and triggers the endocrine system to secrete hormones.

  • “Negative thoughts shift your body’s focus to protection and reduce your ability to process and think with wisdom or grow healthy thoughts.” –Dr. Caroline Leaf from her book Who Switched Off My Brain?
  • The FL is referred to as firing off in the front of the brain.

Below are some examples of the FFR:

  • Fight - defensive, argumentative, negative, reactive,

angry, tantrums

  • Flight – runs away, hyper-vigilant, stress-filled,

anxious, fearful

  • Freeze – shuts down emotions, shuts down learning,



When a child is threatened or frightened their automatic reaction is a Fight/Flight Response (FFR).

  • When this happens, the back of the brain is stimulated.
  • Some children are stuck more often than others. Which makes the FFR stronger. Therefore creating a comfort zone for the child.
  • This FFR is needed and important in order to keep one safe. Yet, when it becomes overused it creates an angry, frustrated, confrontational and fearful child.

A child who is stuck more often than the average child may show signs of:

  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Controlling
  • Pushing limits
  • Impulsiveness
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Affection issues
  • Superficially charming
  • Cruelty to other and animals

The longer the area is stimulated, the stronger and more active it becomes. This is not physically healthy for a child.


When the Fight/Flight Response is extended it can lead to exhaustion and stress related disorders such as:

  • Digestive Problems
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Migraine Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

“People under stress are at a greater risk of developing chronic disease or dying prematurely”

Fight/Flight releases neurotransmitters which are chemicals such as:

  • Dopamine – creates addictive behavior and emotional responses
  • Serotonin – controls mood, appetite and sleep
  • Epinephrine – increases heart rate and blood pressure

Information from Principles of Anatomy Physiology pp.620 by Tortora and Grabowski

Daniel Amen, MD

“When your brain works right, so can you. When your brain doesn’t work right neither can you.”


The Frontal Lobe (FL), at the front of the brain, is where logic, reasoning, problem solving and thinking skills are derived.

We want our children to develop this part of the brain in order to be successful in developing appropriate life skills.


Information on the Frontal Lobe

The Frontal Lobe is the emotional control center and home to our personality

The Frontal Lobe is involved in:

- Ability to Concentrate - Motor function

- Problem Solving - Spontaneity

- Memory - Language

- Initiation - Judgment

- Impulse Control - Social behavior

Information from


Two ways to help a school age child from beingstuck

We call these reminders:

1. Check

2. Crisscross and Shift



Check means for the child to check what they are doing and correct the behavior.

  • For example: if you are talking with someone and a child interrupts, you would say check to them and continue your discussion expecting them to correct their own behavior.
  • Using check should be simple.
  • You may need to remind the child that check means to correct what they are doing or take care of the situation themselves.
  • If you find that you are repeating checks, then a child might need to crisscross for more thinking time. In this way, the child is shifting their thinking to the FL and strengthening that part of the brain.

Crisscross and Shift:

This means to think about what happened and shift from the back of the brain to the front. When the arms and legs are crisscrossedthis activates both sides of the brain. Sitting up tall and straight will get oxygen to the brain which helps the child become a better thinker.

  • This can be done sitting on the floor, sitting in a chair, or standing.
  • This can be done using a “time-out”.
  • When crisscrossing the child needs to be silent.

Process the child’s behavior after the child has taken time to

think by asking them:

What happened? Why did I have you crisscross?

You may process more if it is needed. Here are some suggestions:

  • Were you thinking or just reacting?
  • Where were you firing off in your brain?
  • How did you handle it?
  • How should you have handled it?
  • How did it work for you?
  • What do you need to do now?
  • Discipline when needed.

If a child does not crisscross when told, tell them they are stuck.Remind them that being stuck is not good for their brain but that they can wait until they are ready to crisscross and shiftand be a better thinker.

  • Always follow through on the crisscross and process what happened.

A child can crisscross for a minute, a minute per age,* until they are ready, or until you think they are ready. This depends on what you decide because you are the one implementing the strategy.

*Practice is needed to achieve the time up to a minute per age.


If you argue or engage with the child, you are feeding the FFR which is strengthening the negative responses of the child’s brain. Refrain from doing this.

  • Crisscrossing is a positive behavior because it helps the brain.

Guidelines for Implementation:

  • Correct immediately.
  • Always follow through.
  • Give positive input: Your are sitting so tall. Look how well you can do a crisscross. I can see that you are getting oxygen to your brain. You are shifting to be a better thinker.
  • Use appropriate consequences when needed and after processing.

Try to avoid using these techniques in a negative way. Of course, children perceive this as discipline when corrected or used in time out, but if it is also used in positive ways it helps to balance out the negative thinking.

  • Here are some positive ways to use the crisscross:

Do a crisscross to show me that you are ready for a story.

Do a crisscross when you have finished your chore(s).

Let’s see a crisscross after you have gotten ready for bed.


Other effective ways to use crisscrossing:

  • When a child is:






Refusing to talk

Taking a test

Needing time to think

Owing time

Calming down

reminders these are here to help your brain get stronger and for you to be a better thinker
RemindersThese are here to help your brain get stronger and for you to be a better thinker
  • Check

-Check what you are doing and take care of the behavior

  • Crisscross/ Shift

-Crisscross arms and legs and think “What happened”

-Get oxygen to your brain by sitting tall and straight

-Be ready to tell an adult “What happened”

  • Rules

-Crisscross/shift right away

-You may not tell someone else to check or crisscross/shift

-You may crisscross/shift anytime you feel you need to


This program makes students feel safe and has reduced disrespectful behaviors.

  • These methods work for all students, even with our special needs students diagnosed with:



OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder)

AD/HD – Inattentive or Impulsive

RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder)


Other Activities with brain exercises may include: Jumping, Swinging, Running, Crossovers, etc.


  • Brain Gym and Me by Paul E. Dennison
  • Smart Moves by Carla Hannaford, PH.D.
  • Hands On by Isabel Cohen and Marcelle Goldsmith
  • Brain Gym by Paul E. Dennison

Additional Resources

  • Julie Mendenhall:

  • Nancy Thomas
  • Bruce Perry
  • Caroline Leaf


  • Books
  • Information