8 Tips to Stop Lizard Brain Parenting


Nobody is rational when it comes to their own child.

It is impossible. 

We love them too much. 

Sure, some parents are more rational than other.  And there are times or topics over which we are more rational than not.   But still, even at our best, we cannot be fully objective about our own kids. 

And we shouldn’t. 

The love a parent has for a child is fierce and forever, and that is the way it should be.  That said, knowing that we feel irrational can at least allow us to consider that we may not always be acting terribly sanely.

So many of us today are parenting from a place of anxiety.  It’s almost impossible not to.  We are inundated with information about the rising costs of college, the rising competition for admission, the need to take 23 AP classes or be doomed to mediocrity and the importance of excelling at something (like a sport) to demonstrate that you are well-rounded—superlatively well-rounded that is.

When we are parenting from a place of anxiety, we go into lizard brain mode.  That fight, flight or freeze mentality that did a remarkable job keeping us alive when we were cavemen and danger was everywhere.   But that impulse is less effective in this era.  The problem with our lizard brain is that it is under the assumption that we are being attacked at any moment and therefore is preoccupied with the negative.  It narrows our problem solving to consider only defense and survival.  If we want to use the more evolved portions of our brain to parent, we need to exit the lizard mode.   

The truth is that there probably no lion on the horizon. But, by all means, take a look. If person or situation is toxic, then separate.  Run like hell.  But if not, let’s see if the situation can be fixed. 

1.  Breathe.  It’s true.  Oxygen helps us calm and center ourselves.  

2.   Assume good faith.  Generally speaking, people are not out to get you.  

3.   Don’t tell yourself a story.  One of my fondest saying is “in the absence of information people make things up and they are seldom flattering about you.”  Do not assume you understand reasoning or motives. Don’t tell yourself a story.  Again, see #2.

4.   Remember there is more at stake than your needs.  In fact, people are usually just worried about themselves and their kids or livelihood etc.

5.   Drop the us vs. them mentality and move to the same side of the table to solve the problem.  We don’t need to be fighting a constant war with our kids’ teachers, coaches and neighbors.  Find ways to work together and support each other.  

6.   When in conflict, the objective is to solve the problem or decide how to move on from it.  Not to assign blame or make someone else feel badly.  

7.   It will involve some compromise. Not a bad thing.

8.   If you cannot reach an agreement, go in peace. Life is long. Carrying around negative feelings will kill you. 

While there are moments where being anxious about your child is normal and even necessary, try to let go of the times when it is not.  They do grow up fast and you don’t want to look back and realize that you didn’t enjoy the time and forgot to make friends and develop a community because your focus was just on looking out for the tigers on the horizon.

When we allow ourselves to exit our lizard brains, we can see all the good that there is for our children and all the people who are available to help them.  And we are present to help others’ children as well.

When we are no longer parenting from our lizard brain, we can exit the rat race of 21st century parenting.  And exiting that rat race is a good thing, for in the wise words of one of my favorite philosophers, Lily Tomlin, “The problem with the rat race is, even if you win you are still a rat.”