Adulting - Your Adult Brain vs. Your Toddler Brain

Posted by Evie Shafner, LMFT on August 21, 2019 at 11:11 AM
Evie Shafner, LMFT

2 minute read

Adulting - Your Adult Brain vs. Your Toddler Brain - Imago Relationships North America

Did you ever notice that when you get triggered by your partner, you start blaming, denying, and defending? Or, even exhibiting tantrums? Well, as soon as you do, your partner meets you at that place and raises you. It’s not your fault, this is a strong brain habit. So much so, the science says that being grabbed by this part of the brain takes less than a blink of the eye. This reactive behavior is called our Toddler Brain, and if you’ve seen any toddlers in your life, you know why.  

So while we don’t want to shame ourselves for acting this way, it’s the bias of our fight or flight brain, if we want our relationship to stay connected, safe, and loving, we have to learn how to access our adult brain at the moment of stress. The good news is that we can, and when we do we feel so much better about ourselves. 

By practicing these tips on a daily basis, on your own, they’ll get easier and the adult brain will catapult your relationship into the “ happily ever after” land we all desire. 

Here are few tips to try out to get you out of Toddler Brain and into the Adult Brain:
  1. Write down the things you say and do when you are in a reactive place. Don’t judge yourself, this is a compassion journey. These are everything from sighs and eye rolls to tone and critical or harsh statements. This is for growth. 

  2. Write down the things your partner says and does when they’re in their Toddler Brain. You’ll be much clearer on these, interesting enough! 

  3. Write down your response to each of your partner’s Toddler Brain actions, and also how you feel in those moments.  

  4. Write a list of Adult Brain sentences you could say instead. Keeping in mind that the Adult Brain habits are about protecting, improving, and connecting. Prefacing with softness or appreciations can be so helpful as well. 

Here are examples of the Adult Brain vs. Toddler Brain: 

Your partner forgot to bring home all the groceries you needed for a dinner party. Do you respond as a toddler or an adult?  

  1. The Toddler Brain might respond saying, “I can’t believe you forgot to get that one item I really needed for this dish. Now it’s ruined!” 

  2. Or, do you use your Adult brain and respond by saying, “It’s no biggie you forgot all the groceries, sweetie, but I sure could use your help figuring out how to change the recipe.”

Your partner makes the following comment during a car drive, “You aren’t even listening to me, you don’t care about what I’m saying at all.”  

  1. The toddler brain might respond with, “What!? I care, you don’t listen to me either.”

  2. Or, do you use the adult brain and say, “I’m sorry. Tell me again so I can be sure I really understood you. I do care about what you have to say.” 

We hope these tips and examples will help you stay in your Adult Brain and ultimately do Adulting very well. Remember, your adult brain is what holds your core values, compassion, and humanity. What a wonderful place to live! :) 

Topics: Managing Conflict, Healthy Relationships, Conflict Resolution, Happy Relationships, Emotional Safety, Appreciation and Gratitude, Forgiveness, Self Care, Stress Relief, Healthy Connection, Healthy Communication, Emotional Intelligence, Emotional Connection, Adulting

About the blog

52 tips for self-care and personal growth from Imago Relationship experts on breaking bad habits, what to do when you are in a crisis, how to move on after a bad breakup and healing relationships.

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