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Tips For Parents of Bipolar Children

These tips have been put together based on my experiences with my son who has childhood bipolar disorder and discussions with other parents of children who have bipolar disorder and their experiences. Often it is helpful to hear about what other parents have tried and found successful and/or helpful.

Parents should keep in mind not only that each child is unique, but a child with bipolar disorder can rapidly shift from one mood or frame of mind to another - what works for one child won't necessarily work for every child and many times something won't work every time with your child.

  • Children with bipolar disorder often perceive things differently.
    Things that they see or hear may be interpreted differently than in the way everyone else sees and hears things. Sometimes they may even believe things are true when everyone else knows they are not true. Some children may be having hallucinations and/or delusions. Your child's therapist can help you with these issues and the best way to help your child.
  • Keep track of behaviors, responses, and mood swings.
    Use a journal, chart, or calendar to note dates and times of mood swings, changes in sleep patterns, possible triggers for mood swings, and any information your child shares that may indicate a shift in moods. As the moods of a child with bipolar disorder can shift several times in a day, try to write this information down as soon as you can with just the important parts and any examples (i.e., Tommy said there were too many things going on in his head; Tommy said he wanted to run away and die; Tommy screamed he hated me and that he was going to tell the police I was hurting him - this was in response to telling Tommy he had to take a bath). This information will be helpful for your child's doctor as it can show a pattern of cycles and help identify triggers.
  • Learn to choose your battles.
    Decide what is or is not the most important, as well as if the behavior is a symptom or just a behavior. When your child is unstable, his/her safety is most important, and you may need to forego "normal" parenting techniques in order to keep your child safe.
  • Consequences need to fit the child and the situation.
    A consequence needs to be based not only on the child's ability to understand their actions and the results of their actions, but their current state of mind. If a child is unstable or in the midst of a bipolar manic rage, they may have no control over their actions, and thus won't understand a consequence being given to them.
  • Parents and adults who interact with a child with bipolar disorder need to maintain consistency and communication.
    The same techniques and strategies should be used by all adults (not just the parents) for consequences and how to handle different issues and/or situations with the child. Consistency is very important for children with bipolar disorder as they will readily take advantage of inconsistencies and attempt to get away with things that they may not be able to with their parents. Communication between all adults is equally important as many children with bipolar disorder use defensive coping techniques such as pitting one adult against another by saying one thing to one adult and the opposite to another adult. Oftentimes children with bipolar disorder attempt to sabotage situations in which adults are trying to help them so that they can avoid dealing with things.
  • Know "where" your child is.
    Is your child refusing to cooperate or unable to cooperate? Is there an underlying cause? How you respond to and/or handle certain issues will depend on where your child is. A child who is unstable and/or unable to cooperate may become more frustrated and escalate into a full-blown rage if the situation is not handled appropriately based on "where" your child is.
  • Don't compare your child to other children.
    Your child should not be compared to his/her siblings, their peers, or other children with bipolar disorder. All children are unique and individual. Every child who has bipolar disorder will not act the same, respond the same to different situations, or have all of the same symptoms (i.e., some children with bipolar disorder do not have rages, hallucinations, suicidal ideations, or hypersexuality).
  • Take care of yourself.
    Find time for yourself, no matter how much it is, or what you do. Keep yourself healthy. It is important to make sure that you take care of yourself so that you can take care of your child.
  • Sticks and Stones.
    The old saying "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me." is something to keep in mind as the parent of a child with bipolar disorder. A child with bipolar disorder sees their parent as a safe person - someone who loves them unconditionally, no matter what, understands them, and will always be there for them. They may also see them as the person who is in control of them and tells them what to do. It is very common for children with bipolar disorder to scream hateful things and call their parents names (i.e., I hate you, You aren't my mom/dad anymore, You're mean, I wish I had a different mom/dad, You're the worst mom/dad in the whole world). When our children are upset/unstable enough to say these things to us, it is very important for us to know that they do not really mean them and try to not let them get to us. Yes, this is easier said than done, but when our child calms down, it is us they will be coming to for hugs and comfort - to know someone loves them and will be there for them no matter what.
  • Work with your child's doctor to find the right medication or combination of medications.
    Medication is very important. Doctors rely on parents to look for any side effects, improvements, or other changes when trying to find the right medication(s) as well as the effective dosages. The same medications do not work for every child, and some medications like anti-depressants and stimulants can worsen a bipolar condition, especially if the child's moods are not stabilized first.
  • Have a Support System in Place.
    As much as our child needs us to be their support system, we need to have a support system of our own. A parent's support system can come in many forms, but it needs to be what works for you. This can be a support group for bipolar disorder or other mental health issues (either on the Internet or in person), a church group, a therapist, or even a friend that you can spend time alone with. It is important to have someone that you can talk to - even if all they do is listen and let you know they care about you and will help you however they can.














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