BrainWise Strategies for Kids: Using Our Wizard Brains to Stop and Think

Our brains are in charge of everything we do. We take in information, and we send that information where it needs to go.

Every brain has both a relay center, and amygdala, and a pre-frontal cortex. In BrainWise, we say that your emotional response (the fight/flight/freeze response) is driven by your Lizard Brain. Your pre-frontal cortex, which helps you to stop and think, is your Wizard Brain.

The BrainWise curriculum was designed to help kids build social and emotional control and self-regulation skills. When I previously worked in the Saint Louis Counseling School Partnership Program, I received training in this program, and still use components of it in my practice today. To be clear, I’m not TECHNICALLY providing brainwise as I’m not maintaining really strict fidelity with the model. I have a whole walkthrough on the modules in an earlier post. This week, I want to walk you through how I introduce the model in my individual work with angry and anxious kids.

I strongly encourage parents, teachers or therapists to consider buying the BrainWise curriculum if these seem like helpful tools.

Week 1

Everyone Has Problems

Before we talk about using our wizard brain to solve problems, we need to understand that we’re not the only people who face them. Everyone has problems. And, everyone has problems that are big, medium, or small. Working one-on-one, I have kids come up with a list of different problems that they face, along with their parents, teachers, or even something silly like the zoo keeper (I mean, hello, cleaning up monkey poop would totally be a problem!)

We then figure out if a problem feels small, medium, or big, with the understanding that a small problem for me may feel like a medium problem for you.

Week 2

Wizard Brain Over Lizard Brain

Drawing a picture of their brain, we color in the back and brain stem area to represent the "Lizard Brain,” and with a different color we shade in the pre-frontal cortex to represent our “Wizard Brain.”

For anger and anxiety, we talk about how these are important emotions to feel. They give us really crucial information, and let us know that we don’t like what’s going on. Similarly, our Lizard Brain is just trying to keep us safe - but sometimes it gets us into trouble. We utilize stories to talk about different characters making a lizard brain or wizard brain choice.

Building from there:

The “big problems or small problems” and “Wizard over Lizard” language gets used throughout my practice with kids and teens. These are foundational skills.

Easy ways to incorporate this language moving forward:

  1. Point out when your emotions maybe start to take over, and share what your lizard brain is telling you to do vs. what your wizard brain would tell you to do.

  2. When watching shows or movies, ask your child to identify the problems that the characters face. Do these problems seem big, medium, or small? What size do those problems feel like to the characters in the moment?

  3. If you notice your child starting to get overwhelmed, catch them and gently point out, “I wonder if your lizard brain is taking over. Let’s STOP and THINK. Can we do something to make it easier to use your wizard brain?”

Curious to hear more about the Wizard Brain curriculum? Check out BrainWise’s official website! Kelsey Torgerson Dunn, MSW, LCSW specializes in child and adolescent anger and anxiety management in St. Louis, MO. She works with families throughout Clayton, U City, Brentwood, Ballwin, and Creve Couer. You can set up a free 15-minute phone consultation at compassionatecounselingstl.com/consult