Introducing “Mind Hangry”

Introducing “Mind Hangry”

Introducing “Mind Hangry”

There's a newly coined term to describe the gap between what some minds need versus what they are experiencing in the learning setting: mind hangry. Read on to find out what this is, how to spot it, and how to fix it with our Mind Food recipe.

Many people have the “hangry” experience, or have been in the uncomfortable presence of a hangry friend, family member, or colleague.  Hangry (hungry + angry) is when you are so hungry that the hunger turns into the inability to control emotional reactions.  Science suggests that because of certain hormonal functions when we are hungry, anxiety and emotionalism can increase. This is thought to be a survival mechanism so that when our brain is signaled that we need nutrients, we are compelled both physically and emotionally to go in search for food.  

A hangry person will often act irritable and grumpy.  But often the person does not realize why he or she is feeling this way.  At the mall, my friend Jen suddenly became grumpy and irritable.  Her fiancé said patiently, “You’re hungry.  Let’s get something to eat.”  Jen retorted grouchily, “How could I be hungry?  We just ate lunch!”  After eating, Jen was restored to her normal state.  For years, Jen had had that feeling and she didn’t know what was wrong with her, getting irritated like that toward people she loved.  Turns out, she just needed some food. 

Lately, I’ve been witnessing a phenomenon among school children that I have termed “mind hangry.”  

mind hangry  adjective.  Feeling a gap between what the mind needs and what it is experiencing in the learning setting; causes uncontrolled emotional responses such as anger, anxiety, impatience, or inattention.

The worst thing about mind hangry children is that no one knows what’s wrong with them.  They often appear to adults to be emotionally unstable, hyperactive, or defiant, which lands them in the pediatrician’s or psychiatrist’s office, or gets them behavioral plans and anger management programs.  But for these children, the answer isn’t a diagnosis; they need mind food, and trust in an adult that their needs will be consistently met! 

Like Jen, children usually don’t know that they are mind hangry.  All they know is that they have a bad feeling, an unsatisfied, uncontrolled feeling.  This feeling, this gap between what they need and what they’re getting, causes them to react in a myriad of ways.  The mind hangry phenomenon seems to particularly be rampant among creative students and divergent thinkers who crave depth, the opportunity to contribute original thoughts, and the multidimensional exploration of interesting ideas.

If we take the matter to Howard Gardner’s research, we can explore the mind hangry phenomenon further through the lenses of multiple intelligence theory.  Experience and common sense show that when a child is high in a particular area, there is more likely to be a gap between her educational experience and what she needs.  When you get to the far right-hand tail of the bell curve, mind hangry is almost certain to occur in a child’s educational career.  This is true for high-IQ gifted students, but also for those who do not test high on IQ but have exceptional creative thinking abilities (caution: these may be latent if not supported, so it often takes a discerning, patient adult to recognize them).  If a child is high on a specific intelligence, or a passionate interest that’s not traditionally connected to school, he may also be susceptible to becoming mind hangry — even if he is not considered an exceptional student, and even if he is diagnosed with a learning disability.   If a teacher can leverage the student’s area of strength - social skills, technological prowess, mathematical ability - and provide opportunities to let that shine, oftentimes he will become more intellectually satisfied and less mind hangry.  If the curriculum is tweaked to allow depth, original thought, and the exploration of ideas, this is even better.

The danger with mind hangry children is misdiagnosing them with other problems.  If you see a child unsettled in school, resistant, and behaving uncharacteristically, there’s very little downside to exploring whether she is mind hangry.  With our Mind Food recipe, it’s straightforward and simple to test the waters to see if you can find the right combination of satisfying intellectual nutrients.  

Mind Food
Patience, flexibility, and openness allows the flavor of the 
individual student to shine through.

Suggested ingredients
(experiment with these and add your own):


Directions for Managing Mind Hanger: 

  1. Begin with plenty of patience and the desire to understand what makes this individual child tick.  
  2. Add two parts flexibility and one part deep listening.  
  3. Let the child talk, and identify his interests, strengths, and vision. 
    Use the knowledge of these to dissolve your latent fears about his future prospects before continuing. 
  4. Apply your own creativity and lateral thinking to connect these strengths and interests to opportunities in the school day that might support or encourage them.  
  5. If a particular area of interest arises - say, math and nature - engage the child in an exploration of a curious, deep concept such as Fibonacci spirals in nature, art, and architecture, and irrational numbers like the golden ratio.
  6. Watch carefully to see if interest peaks and excitement grows.  If so, you’ve successfully delivered mind food.  If not, return to step 4 and find another pathway to the child’s intellectual heart.

Expert tips:

  • Throughout the process, allow students to think for themselves, reflect, and make mistakes.  
  • If you have a student who loves solving technological issues and working with computers, set her up with the computer lab teacher and see if she can help solve computer problems.
  • If you have a student high on social intelligence, find a leadership opportunity for this child within your classroom or the school.
  • For students who are creative thinkers, integrate the arts into your classroom.  Ask for their original, unique feedback to paintings, music, nature and have them create using their chosen medium (painting, sculpture, writing, music, etc.).  This doesn’t have to be an add-on that you don’t have time for; an original product can be used to synthesize and assess learning across the curriculum.

Ratings and Reviews:

Improved engagement, laughter and smiles.  Happy students providing feedback through their thoughts, observations, analyses, and original products that synthesize learning.  Increased motivation driven by connecting the day-to-day learning experience to what students care about most.


Copyright 2014 Kathryn P. Haydon.  All Rights Reserved.

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