Tips for using your "wizard brain" to increase harmony.
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As a former participant in the Co-Parenting for Resilience Program at Oklahoma State University, we are pleased to offer you this newsletter with tips to help you achieve the best for your child(ren).

Overcome your lizard brain and allow your wizard brain to take over!

Lizard brain:

  • Emotional part of brain
  • Reacts first and thinks later
  • Is controlled by emotions

Wizard brain:

  • Logical thinking part of brain
  • Thinks first and then responds
  • Self-control

Parenting can be stressful, even under the best of circumstances. Add in divorce or other relationship pressures, and the challenges can become overwhelming. However, parents can all agree kids need to be protected from this stress. To do this, parents must work to keep their “lizard” brain from taking over. The lizard brain is that quick emotional response. It tends to react first and think later. This usually happens when parents are under stress from work, finances, or the hurt and anger that comes from divorce. In the heat of the moment, parents who let their lizard brain take control often snap at their children, say things in a hurtful, cutting way with sarcasm or anger, shout and dish out punishments that don’t fit the crime (like grounding a child for the rest of his or her life), or simply throw up their hands in frustration and say “whatever,” instead of taking the time to appropriately discipline.

Be a wizard instead! The wizard brain is the calm, logical, thinking part of the brain. It seeks first to understand and then to make itself understood. The wizard brain listens before deciding and solving a situation. It is the part of the brain that looks out for others and tries to protect children from the harmful effects of relationship stress. The wizard brain can take control of the lizard brain, but it takes practice to make this a regular habit. Parents who regularly use their wizard brain help children understand why some behaviors are unacceptable and other behaviors are acceptable and under what circumstances. The wizard brain also sets clear guidelines for behavior and enforces those guidelines consistently, but lovingly.

When you recognize yourself using your lizard brain instead of your wizard brain, it is best to take a “time out,” allow yourself to cool down and regain your composure back before dealing with an issue. This usually takes at least 20 minutes to 30 minutes. Likewise, if you do react first, it’s important to start a conversation later and apologize for what you said or did. For example, “Daddy is sorry for talking ugly to you earlier today. I was frustrated with work and wasn’t thinking straight. It was wrong of me to shout at you. Can we start over?” Children understand and appreciate parents who are able to recognize their own mistakes and will learn to accept responsibility for their own actions when they see you doing the same.

Remember that using the wizard brain takes practice, and though it can be difficult at first, with time it will help you gain control of the situation and keep your child’s needs as your primary concern. One way to exercise your brain is to imagine yourself in a situation that would normally be difficult to handle, and then imagine yourself handling it calmly even when your co-parent doesn’t. For example, imagine yourself taking a step back to cool off before responding to your co-parent. This helps activate your wizard brain and allows you to think more logically for your child. If you frequently practice doing this, before you know it your wizard brain will become much stronger and you will have the satisfaction of being the best parent you can be for your child.

Need more help?

Co-parenting is hard. We're here to help! Learn more about the Co-parenting for Resilience Program, part of the Extension mission of Oklahoma State University's College of Human Sciences.


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