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The Lizard, Dog and Owl: Explaining the Brain to Children

Many child therapists use the Lizard, Dog and Owl to explain the different parts of the brain because it is easy for children to understand. Here is a quick synopsis:

Lizard Brain (The Brain Stem)

  • The most important job is to alert us to danger

  • It lets us know when there’s danger through sensations in our bodies

  • If the lizard brain takes over, one of the most important strategies is deep breathing

  • It’s important to become good at noticing the sensations that our lizard brain is trying to make us aware of

  • It is control of our fight, flight or freeze system

  • The first part of our brain that develops (newborn babies)

Dog Brain (Limbic System

  • The emotional centre of our brain

  • Experiences emotions such as happy, sad, angry, lonely, scared

  • “name it to tame it” – a great skill for emotional regulation is learning how to recognize and name feelings that we are experiencing

  • Emotions give us important information that helps us make decisions

  • The second part of our brain that develops (toddlers)

Owl Brain (Cortex)

  • We use this part of our brain to think, analyze, reflect, create, and problem-solve

  • It helps guide us as we learn to deal with the sensations in our body (lizard) and our emotions (dog) and express them in a healthy way

  • The third part of our brain to develop – the owl brain begins developing in early childhood and isn’t fully developed until approximately age 25

You can teach your child about the different parts of the brain and begin using the terminology. For example, "what part of your brain are you in right now?" and "what could you do to get in to your owl brain?" The more that children can learn to recognize their feelings, the easier it is for them to regulate them.

Learn more about the lizard, dog and owl at

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