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How Parents Can Overcome Negative Bias

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

Has this ever happened to you? Its bedtime, you are all settled in and tired, ready to get some rest, when your brain fires up and proceeds to review all the crap from the day? Your brain gets stuck on repeat replaying that thing that you said that was embarrassing, the low key mean thing that coworker did, the fact that your boss wants to talk to you tomorrow and it’s definitely to fire you? Our brains are really good at noticing the bad stuff. This is called negative bias.

What is Negative Bias

Negative bias is the very human tendency to focus on the bad and zero in on the everyday mistakes and criticisms that occur. Does it ever seem like when you review your life the only stuff you can remember is that super embarrassing thing you did in high school or the complaint lodged against you or the traumatic events that happened? 

Why Do We Have a Negative Bias

Research  has found that humans tend to focus more on the negative because of evolution. Think about it like this, if early humans heard a rustle in the bushes and assumed it was a saber toothed tiger they’d run away every time and stay safe. If they heard a rustle in the bushes and assumed it was just the wind there was a good chance that some of the time it would actually be the tiger and not turn out well for them. It just makes sense then that always thinking the worst kept people alive. 

You may be thinking “but there’s no saber toothed tigers jumping out from behind the bushes now so why do we still do this”? Evolution is slow. Our brains, that are so good at inventing new technology, have not caught up to the news about the tigers. So we have turned every day stressors into saber toothed tigers. 

How Does Negative Bias Impact Parenting

This trait to dwell on the negative definitely influences how we parent. Since our brains are so good at spotting danger and assuming the worst we may see our child’s behavior as dangerous. .Let’s say your kid is having big loud feelings about that thing you had to say no to. The loud sounds, the challenge, can all serve to make that fight or flight part of your brain wake up and try to protect you. That part of your brain starts shouting “Tiger! Right there! Run! Fight! Do something!”. 

What Can Parents Do About Negative Bias

When we are working hard to be loving parents loving life it can be really hard to do that when we live with a bunch of tigers. Negative bias can make you expect the worst from others. It can lead you to think things like “my kid is acting this way on purpose” or “why does this always happen to me?”. So how do we overcome the tendency toward negative bias?

  • Start by noticing the thoughts you are having. Realize that they are just thoughts and ask yourself if the thought is helpful or unhelpful. This will help you get some separation between the event and what you are thinking about it. 
  • Practice savoring positive events. When good things happen we tend to let them slide on by without committing them to memory. Take ten seconds to really savor the good stuff so that it sticks.  
  • Remember the 5:1 ratio. Careful research has found that because the negative bias is so strong we need 5 positive interactions to balance every negative one. Everyone has an off day sometimes. If you make a mistake that’s totally normal! Realign yourself to being your most loving parent self and balance things out with 5 positives.
  • Take care of yourself. It is much easier to notice your thinking patterns, be present for the good things that happen, and balance the positives when your emotional cup is full. 

Negative bias is the totally human tendency to dwell on the bad. It can have an influence on our parenting. By being mindful and participating in self care your loving parent self will show up.

Photo by Stephan Müller from Pexels

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