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Overcoming Isolation and Loneliness

Any child at any age may sometimes feel lonely or as though they are left out. However, for a child with bipolar disorder, feelings of isolation and loneliness are at times a daily struggle, many times made worse by misunderstanding.  Children with bipolar disorder truly feel alone and isolated - there are no friends for them, they are alone and will always be alone, and there is no real possibility that they will have friends just like everyone else - a feeling of being "Lost At Sea".

Children with bipolar disorder often have difficulties with peer interactions and activities that involve social and emotional skills. Many activities that involve taking turns, sharing, making compromises, and competition (winning and losing), can be difficult for children with bipolar disorder to participate in. They may have difficulties waiting their turn, working problems out with their peers, losing a game, and accepting criticism and failure - all things which may trigger a bipolar meltdown.

If it is hard for adults to sometimes understand the meltdowns of a child with bipolar disorder; what triggers them; and what to do when they happen; just imagine how much harder it is for another young child to understand them. When a child with bipolar disorder has a meltdown, or responds to an event in what is often considered an "inappropriate" response, their peers may not understand what is going on, and might believe the child is being mean and sometimes no longer want to play with them. This can lead to a child with bipolar disorder feeling even more alone and isolated.

It is not surprising that these children who can have their own emotions in turmoil, will often have difficulties understanding the emotions of their friends, especially if it is a reaction to either a bipolar meltdown, or a behavioral symptom of childhood bipolar disorder.

Parents of children with bipolar disorder often struggle with their child's feelings of isolation and loneliness. It is hard to see your child almost always being alone. When a parent sees or hears about their child being left out, not invited to events or to the homes of other children, and having to find answers to difficult questions ("Why don't I get to go to my friend's house?" "Why doesn't anyone want to play with me?" "How come I am always by myself?"), they may feel helpless or angry.

As a parent, we want to see our child succeed - we don't want to set them up for failure. We want them to have friends and be able to interact with their peers in social settings outside of the school environment, but sometimes are worried about what might happen - how will our child react to certain situations, and are we possibly setting them up to experience even more feelings of isolation and loneliness?

Opportunities to Promote Peer Interaction and Social Skills

Parents should primarily look for activities that are non-competitive and self-contained. However, if your child truly wishes to participate in a team sport, and has your encouragement and support, you should be aware that the concept of winning and losing may be difficult for your child.

Parents should explain this concept, as well as good sportsmanship to their child ahead of time and often. Losing and/or criticism can sometimes trigger a bipolar outburst and internal self-deprecating thoughts and feelings. If this occurs too frequently, it may be best to discontinue the team activity and look at other options.

  • Sports and Physical Activities
    • Swimming: The buoyancy and resistance of the water is often soothing and calming. Parents can enroll their child in swimming lessons, take them to the gym, a pool or a lake, or let them join a swim team.
    • Martial Arts: This holds a special appeal as it is a structured regiment with levels of achievement that promote focus and self-discipline. Children are able to work at an individual pace and experience success moving from one level to the next. It also involves lots of visual repetition, incremental learning, and promotes brain-body connections in order to be conscious of how the parts of the body move and relate to one another.
    • Yoga: Like martial arts, this also involves self-discipline, coordination, and awareness of your body.
    • Gymnastics: Involves self-discipline and coordination, has a wide variety of different types of activities, and can be done on either a non-competitive or competitive level.
    • Ballet: Involves self-discipline and coordination, music that may be soothing, and awareness of your body.
  • Art and Music
    • Art classes: Often offered by schools or within the community, painting, drawing, sculpture and other art classes not only offer opportunities for peer interactions, but are also activities that can be done in the home and may be soothing and calming to the child.
    • Chorus or Choir: Usually offered by schools and churches, and can be something your child can also do at home.
    • Band or Orchestra: Generally offered through schools, and is also something your child can do at home (sometimes older children may form their own band).
    • Musical Instrument Lessons: Depending on the instrument, lessons are sometimes given in a group environment. Your child can also play at home, and may find playing a musical instrument to be calming and soothing. Learning to play an instrument can also lead to being part of a band or orchestra.
    • Dance lessons: Provide additional opportunities for movement.
  • Group Activities
    • Boys/Girls Groups: Many communities have Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Awanas, Boys & Girls Clubs, 4-H, and/or other groups for children. These groups generally meet once per week for an hour and a half to two hours each meeting. Children can learn a a variety of new skills and participate in group activities and/or events. Depending on what is available in your community, you can look for a group that fits with your child's interests. The short once a week time-frame for group meetings is often ideal for children who may have difficulties with time-consuming and lengthy activities.
    • Church groups: For those who belong to a church, or other religious organizations, many offer children's and youth groups that meet one evening a week.
    • After-school clubs/programs: Many school districts offer clubs or after-school programs to children in their community. After-school programs offer opportunities to interact with peers outside of the structured school day, and offer a wide variety of activities like free play, arts and crafts, and even help with homework. School clubs are generally interest-based, and if a club is available for something your child is very interested in can be a good way to meet other children with similar interests.
    • Community classes: Often there are organizations in communities that will offer classes on different topics. Sometimes parents can find free classes (i.e., many public libraries offer group activities/classes a few times a month for free). The important thing is finding a class that interests your child. A class that interests your child will give them an opportunity to meet other children who share the same interests.
  • Other Activities
    • School Activity Nights: Many schools offer activity nights at least once a month for parents and students. This is a good opportunity for your child to interact with the children they see at school outside of the regular classroom environment.
    • Playgrounds and/or parks: These can be great places for your children as there are lots of different things to do and many opportunities to practice social skills, especially what to do when meeting someone for the first time and learning how to make new friends.









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