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Helpful Parenting Strategies for Your Bipolar Child


Living With Bipolar Disorder: A Guide For Individuals and Families by Michael W. Otto, Noreen A. Reilly-Harrington, Robert O. Knauz, Aude Henin and Jane N. Kogan aims to help suffers learn how to better recognize mood shifts before they happen, minimize their impact, and move on with their lives. This book teaches individuals with bipolar disorder how to work together with their family and friends to take charge of their illness and get the most out of professional treatment. The excerpt below provides some advice for parents who are struggling with their bipolar child.

Parenting a child with bipolar disorder can be a stressful and frustrating experience. First and foremost, it is important for parents to remember that they are not to blame for their child’s difficult behaviors. It is also important to remember that these children are suffering from an illness that can get in the way of their behaving appropriately. Although their behavior in the moment can be quite outrageous, children often feel very remorseful or ashamed once the crisis has passed. In addition, the following general parenting strategies may be helpful.

■ Maintain structure and regularity in activities. As with adults, children with bipolar disorder are vulnerable to disruptions in their schedules. They may benefit from a predictable schedule of activities that is not too hectic but 9780195323580.jpgavoids long periods of downtime. This can be particularly important during the weekends or vacation. Relaxing or soothing activities can also help a child during stressful periods or during particularly difficult times of day.

■ Keep a mood log. A mood log or brief journal will help you identify patterns in your child’s moods, identify potential triggers, and become aware of early warning signs of mood episodes.

■ Plan ahead. As much as possible, avoid unnecessary situations that are likely to trigger meltdowns. If a difficult situation is unavoidable, prepare for it in advance (in collaboration with your child if they are old enough to do so).

■ Decrease family conflict. It is important to decrease overall family conflict and stress because these can destabilize the moods of both children and adults with bipolar disorder. Pick and choose your battles carefully before imposing a limit. Be consistent in the limits you set, and enforce them in a firm but nonaggressive and nonconfrontational manner. If possible, involve your child in solving issues to teach him or her problem-solving skills. Remember that parents serve as models for child behavior, so, as much as possible, work to provide your child with frequent examples of step-by-step problem solving and conflict resolution (family therapy may help to a great degree here). If arguments become aggressive, implement strategies to de-escalate tension (e.g., a family time-out until all parties have calmed down). If parents disagree about how to handle a problem, avoid arguing or discussing this in front of your child.

■ Remember your child’s strengths. Encourage your child to channel their energies into appropriate tasks and activities. Remember to praise appropriate behaviors, and point out talents and positive traits.

■ Be aware of stressful events outside the home. Stay in close contact with the school because stressors at school or with peers can lead to meltdowns at home. Talk with your child about these stressful events and ways of managing them.

■ Facilitate transitions. Because transitions (including daily transitions) can be particularly difficult, provide plenty of warning for upcoming transitions (ranging from larger transitions such as school onset and off set and vacations to nightly bedtime) provide sufficient time for the child to transition at their speed, limit the number of unnecessary steps during transitions, and try to keep routines as consistent as possible.

■ Monitor your teenager’s behavior. Because teens with bipolar disorder are especially vulnerable to alcohol or drug abuse, as well as other risky behaviors, it is important that parents be aware of their peer relationships and behaviors outside the home. Also keep close tabs on internet, instant messenger (IM), and cell phone use because impulsive behaviors can get your teen into trouble.
■ Have a crisis plan in place. If your child can become violent or suicidal, develop an emergency plan ahead of time (be sure to include his or her treatment providers in this plan). Know which hospital you may want to use for an inpatient stay for you child, and know the steps needed for admission (see Chapter 8). At crisis times, make sure that dangerous items (e.g., knives and medications) are out of the reach of children. Maintain the safety of siblings and pets. Avoid confrontations in potentially dangerous situations (such as while driving in the car).

■ Be aware of unrealistic expectations. It may be tempting to compare your child to other children (or his or her siblings). However, remember that just because you or others feel that a child should be able to do something does not mean that they can. Understand your child’s special needs and work with them to achieve what they can at their own pace. Set intermediate goals that the child can work towards, step-by-step.

■ Take care of yourself. Parenting a bipolar child or adolescent can be exhausting, stressful, and isolating. It is crucial that parents take time out for themselves to “recharge their batteries.” Obtain support from family or others who understand what it is like to have a child with bipolar disorder. Consider additional resources in the community, including therapy, after-school programs, or support groups.

Recent Comments

  1. Ciara

    My name is ciara i have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder since i was 9 years old. There were no children books out at that time so my mom wrote one. It is called Brandon and the Bipolar Bear i can guarantee any parent with a bipolar child has read them this book if not then i suggest immediately getting a copy because it explains bipolar disorder in a way children can understand. In face it’s just been nominated for an award at about.com The award goes to the most popular special needs children book. The winner is determined by how many votes they get i’m asking people to vote, because I believe my mom deserves an award after 10 years of dealing with a child with bipolar disorder in face i think every mother should get one. I’m asking for your help in making that come true here’s the link where you can vote please vote every day through march 8th http://specialchildren.about.com/b/2011/02/11/vote-for-favorite-special-needs-childrens-book.htm

  2. Andrew

    This is a really interesting read. I was diagnosed with Bipoalr at the age of 17 and really had a torrid time at School because there was confusion between me just been a moody teen and Bipolar.
    Thankfully mental health is taken more seriously these days and the NHS do a fantastic job.

    There is a stigma about mental health that really does need dealing with. I always try to promote mental illness in a positive. Its true! there is life after diagnosis

    For people researching bipolar I write a Blog that is full of my personal experiences and information. I hope you find it useful. Mental Health has positive side that is often overlooked.
    http://www.lithiumandchips.com (for the blog)

  3. Randi wilkinson

    Hi my name is Randi and I have a daughter that’s adhd and bipolar. The doctors have her on lots of medication and yet she still flips out. Can anyone give advice on what to do?

  4. Louise

    Randi, we have a 16 year old son who was diagnosed finally in May, adhd and bipolar, after an eight week massive manic episode. We’re going through the same thing…lots of meds but incredible flip outs all the time. Daily. I too would give anything for advice on what to do. Feel like I have no idea how to parent … so you’re not alone…

  5. melissa

    My name is Melissa I have an 8 year old son that is bipolar and adhd signs started at 2, young right I know, we have flip outs every day I just wish I new more things to do

  6. Amber

    My name is Amber. I’m 16 years old and have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and ADHD. I’ve been having symptoms of Bipolar for a few years now. I was a self harmer and bulimic due to all the stress and pain I was feeling. My mom found out and put me in counseling at age 15. Yes, I was pissed off at her but she still made me go. Eventally my counselor made me go see a psychiatrist. I was extremely mad at her. She still didn’t give up. My doctor said I had Bipolar, depression, and ADHD. She said the depression is caused from Bipolar. I also tried to kill myself 6 times… Ever since my mom put me in counseling I’ve been so much better. I’m happier and the pills really do help. It may take a few raises in the meds but it will work. In my opinion I think you should put your child in counseling. They’ll be mad at first but in the end they thank you(: stay strong moms&dads. Good luck.<3

  7. tanya

    Hi my name is Tanya and I have a seven year old who has been diagnoised with bipolar, adhd, anxiety, insomnia, and disruptive mood disorder. I’m trying to do the best I can she’s on a lot of meds and still flips out having meltdowns periodicly threw out the day. She’s been hospitalized twice in a month now they can’t seem to stabilizer her she munipulates to come home any advice?

  8. Jami

    I have a 16 yo son who is bipolar, adhd, and odd. Was diagnosed at age 7. He’s been hospitalized 8 times. About to come home, and I’m so nervous. He is so mean to his sister and all I keep feeling is I’m failing as his mom because of it. I wanna succeed at helping my son so badly. It’s my biggest dream to see him succeed and grow into a successful adult. He has a high IQ and yet refused to put his smarts to success at school. I’ve done the counseling and meds for almost ten years. It’s like a rollercoaster, he will do good then go downhill. Thank you for this list. schoo

  9. Angie

    I have a 11 year old daughter diagnosis are ADHD, PTSD, Anxiety NOS, Mood NOS, Bipolar. She has been hospitalized 2 times over the past year, we live our lives minute to minute. She has been on many medication and now taking both Abilify and Seraquil which does help. I want so bad for her to have a normal life and will continue doing what i have to, to help her live her life to the fullest.

  10. maria guzman

    im bipolar , but i know that i was raised with a lot of positivism, and a mom who rarely was almost never upset, so i was happy. unfortunately my 8 yr old has me, and around twice a month i have a meltown from her. patience, luv, attention, and being firm about rules and routine are what help for both of us, if u r healthy, help ur child dight the unmotivations and mental fogginess thank you.

  11. Kerensa grant

    My 17 year old daughter is bipolar ADHD and anxiety
    I just want some strategies of how to help her when she has a mood swing as she can’t tell me !
    She just had one she was manic and goofy and silly and couldn’t stop then her brother got upset and yelled at her to stop and she crashed and couldn’t stop crying !
    After she was calm and told us she felt out of control and scared but had no way of telling us!
    I need to know how to help her as nothing I did worked I tried distraction and ignoring !

  12. Peggy Lewis

    I am a Grandmother. One of my children was always moody but only diagnosed as oppositional defiant as a teen. I believe she was/is an undiagnosed bipolar person. Tragically, she is a Meth IV drug addict now. I’m legal guardian of her now 8 year old Daughter, who has been diagnosed as having ADHD, DMDD (bipolar), sleep disorder, etc. She is a literal thinker. Often frustrated, saying, I don’t get you, don’t get it, don’t understand, We tried therapy, but therapist made her a promise then didn’t follow through at next appointment. She didn’t trust therapist then. The child psychiatrist had ordered a low dose med, then went on an out of the country two month vacation. The med only compounded problems so was discontinued. Her school, was more concerned with their attendance record, and scheduling her therapy sessions became impossible.

    Grandchild has concrete thinking and memory. She is bright, active and creative, but has difficulty engaging with her peers for long. Often called a tattle tale, whiner, or weird. When she was younger, I detected unusual behaviors that appeared Autistic. Her behavioral testing says she doesn’t fit that criteria. She used to have more frequent disruptive meltdowns, which included pronounced sensitivity to sounds. Her picky appetite remains a daily concern and difficulty. Easily frustrated. Once a meltdown begins, there is no reasoning with her, nor getting her to stop her high pitch whining. It is hard to cope with that. Once she spirals back to normalcy, she acts like nothing happened. She is all sweetness. Indeed it is stressful and exhausting, for all of us. My heart hurts for my grandchild, and for her absent Mother my daughter.

  13. Marlize Pretorius

    I am a mother and grandmother of a 20 year old daughter and three year old grandson. My daughter was misdiagnosed with depression at the age of 15 after self harm – cutting her arms and refusing to participate in church activities. At the age of 14 her once stable personality and positive functioning where she was a leader in her school, academically excellent and participating in various sports, suddenly changed. She was withdrawn, dropped out of church, stopped with participating in sports, starting getting involved with children with no goals themselves with negative home circumstances, and leaving her “good” friends, experimenting with marijuana, etc., etc. To make a long story short she was home schooled for a period of three years, but at one point decided to go back to mainstream school and still continued with academic progress. She thus still had this strenght left in her. She was impulsive and decided to have a child of her own as well. We as parents felst like she was punishing us and just do everyting oposite that we held dear. She also up til now refuses the child to be baptized. Her participation in raising the child is not very good. She was only recently diagnosed with bi-polar, but the meds is not sorted out. I just hope and pry my child wil see the light and that the meds work. My daugher at least now wants help, but her decisions are still not positive. Her current boyfriend has a criminal record for posession of drugs. My child was tested a few times, but she is not using drugs at least, but she does occasionally drink alcohol with friends till very late at night. She cliams to be a student, but it does not help to explain to her that not all studens are like this. At times I felt like running away, but I am rather a fighter than a runner. I gain as much information as I can in order to assit my child. I know ther is hope as there are success stories with bi-polar disorder.

  14. Dana beeman

    I have a grandson that is adhd and bipolar and we r not sure how to deal with this. We need help if anyone has any suggestions.

  15. […] with bipolar disorder benefit from consistent routines.  Avoid long periods of downtime, although it’s important to build in time for relaxation […]

  16. Diane

    How do we get to read the answers to these questions? I read and relate to most of these people and would like to hear the advice. But as I scroll down, I only find more questions but no answers or comments.

  17. amanda scofield

    I have a 8 year old son diagnosed bipolar adhd and disturbance disorder of conduct.be cause of his temperament and behavior he was diagnosed in preschool. he was quite the little crazy kid early on nobody would listen to me to get him help and when I finally found someone to help they threw him on many meds. many flip outs daily, really, I keep my eye on this kid, but after the stupid school had me up his med then kept calling cps on me over him taking meds and side effects of meds on top of it being a huge danger to my other younger kids I decided our household could not go on like this anymore. I cant say that we are perfect we still have a few power struggle matches here n there (when there are accidental triggers to his world) but I slowly (against a lawyers “legal” advice, started to slowly detox my kid of one dose one med at a time and here we are a couple years later he has come so far with his development and behavior, he has his moments still but he is so much more manageable with out all the crazy intense side effects and counter side effect medicine taking him down a chemical trail. sometimes medicine is necessary and sometimes they overly prescribe medicine that isn’t any good. it took a few years what seems like torment of a lifetime to both of us to navigate and forcefully take the initiative to stand up and say I do not want my child on these medicines. and staying consistent each day with modifications to behavior switching parenting techniques when necessary and staying true to making sure I am doing the best for my kids it took a whole year to take him off all the meds and another year to see the benefits.

  18. Shane Warner

    What to do with a screaming 1 year old bipolar child that barely sleeps? Helppppp!

  19. Tiffany Wiseman

    Please help ! My son is 8 years old he is diagnosed both ADHD and bi polar, we don’t have a stable home, our community doesn’t help , he has even been refused mental help through therapy! I don’t know what else to do, I try to get him to say positive things about himself constantly and that doesn’t help, I try rewards, positive remarks on good behavior and it has gotten to the point of him wanting to die! I’ve tried everything and still am, but how do you handle both without a stable environment?

  20. Wanda wooten

    My 11 year old granddaughter has signs of bipolar, she is adhd her problem is school she constantly gets in trouble, one moment she is doing good next she is in principals office she has been to counseling she always Ames it on the other person.I’m at the end of my rope she came from an drug home and CDV, she has been with me nearly 3 years she also screams out at me says she wants to die help me I love her one min she’s on cloud nine then she spirals out of control.

  21. micha

    I have a son who i know is bipolar. He has been this way sin he was young. Earlier he was on meds when we could make him take them. Now as a grown man he is difficult to deal with. I don’t want toe cut him totally off. Is there a support group in Connecticut that i could go to so I can cope with my son and the situation that this causes.

  22. Liliana

    I need help with my son

  23. Wendy

    9 years of this. 9 long, tiring, helpless years. My daughter started demonstrating violent behavior at 4 years old. By 6 she was diagnosed with ADHD, ODD and DMDD. We started Therepy, psychiatry and medicating. I was told it would take a year before we found the right medicine and dose. 9 years later, 6 hospitalizations (2 were long term – 30 days and 45 days) many holes in the house, broken windows, mirrors and bruises and cuts all over me (mom) from her continuously attacking me. In home Therepy, outpatient programs, behavioralists, crisis intervention, police calls and I am still going through this. She was just recently placed on bipolar medication in addition to her ADHD and mood stabilizer medicines. She is on the last course of therapeutic recommendations before she is placed into a residential facility. While everyone tells me it is not my fault, she is my child and she should be home with me. I would not have tried so hard and for so long if I didn’t want to. I just wish there was more hope for us.

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