Barbara Tizard was born into a working-class household in East London, and studied first at the University of Oxford and then at University College London, where she undertook a part-time PhD while raising a family.
From 1963 Tizard was a lecturer in the Department of Experimental Neurology at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London.
In 1967 Tizard joined the Institute of Education where her husband - Jack Tizard, himself a noted child psychologist - established the Thomas Coram Research Unit in 1973. Following her husband's death in 1979, she became the unit’s director and was promoted to professor.
In works such as Adoption: A Second Chance (1977) she considered the impact of different forms of infant care on a child's development. In Young Children Learning (1984) she argued, controversially, that most children enjoyed a richer learning environment at home as compared to nursery school. Tizard was a lifelong socialist and pacificist, and was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1997.