Parenting a child with bipolar disorder is a unique challenge. There are medications to manage, mood swings to endure, and the many times your child will surprise you with their capacity for rage–or empathy.
National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is observed annual on the first Thursday of May. Thursday, May 7th, 2020, is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day in the United States.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created the day over a decade ago to better support families who struggle with mental health challenges in their children. The purpose of the awareness day is to shine a spotlight on the needs of children with serious mental illness and to encourage communities to get these children the help they need.
If your child suffers from bipolar disorder, don’t lose hope. You can rise to the challenge of parenting a child with mental illness.
Here are 5 ways to support a child with bipolar disorder.
1. Accept Your Child’s Limits
People with bipolar disorder often have mood swings that they cannot control. Your child will sometimes have terrible depression or manic energy that they won’t be able to rein in. They might laugh inappropriately, get into trouble at school, or be completely incapable of taking care of themselves, especially while depressed.
Accept your child’s limits. Be patient with your kid, letting them know that you will always be there for them and that your house is a no-judgment zone.
That doesn’t mean to not hold them accountable for putting in the effort to do chores or homework, but it does mean to give them a little leeway when they’re dealing with depression especially. If they are making inappropriate jokes due to a manic episode, call them on it, and ask them if they really feel those things are appropriate.
2. Validate Your Child’s Feelings
Validate your child’s feelings. Let them know that whatever they’re feeling, be it euphoria, frustration, rage, or the deepest pit of despair, is real. Tell them that you’re not judging them for having these feelings, and guide your child in ways that are appropriate to express their emotions.
Above all, don’t tell them to “stop acting crazy” if they get riled up. If they’re manic, they might be excessively goofy or silly, or have delusions of grandeur (including claims of superpowers). They can’t help themselves.
3. Communicate Honestly and Openly with Your Child
Communication is key to supporting your child with bipolar disorder. When your child approaches you, turn off your electronic devices and really listen. Even if you don’t understand how they feel, take in all that they say.
When your kid is struggling with their mood swings, or guilt, or other strong feelings, offer your child emotional support. Be patient, and validate what they feel (tip #2).
If you, too, have bipolar disorder, tell your child that you suffer the same kinds of mood swings that they do. Be honest with your children in an age-appropriate way.
(For a post on the differences between bipolar disorder in children and bipolar disorder in adults, click here.)
4. Set up a Routine
Children thrive on routine. You want to plan out your child’s days and weeks, and be consistent from day to day and week to week. Make sure your kid takes their medication at the same time everyday.
Center their routine around the “big six” tenants of self-care: eating a healthy diet, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, playing outside, exercising, and socializing with other human beings.
Set up a consistent schedule of activities for your child, but don’t forget to plan in downtime, too.
5. Help Your Child with Treatment
Help your child with their treatment plan. Find both a psychiatrist and a therapist for them. Keep a detailed journal of the changes in your kid’s moods and behaviors when starting a new medication. Follow the medication schedule, and gently but firmly let your child know that taking their meds is not an option. Don’t run out.
If necessary, talk to the guidance counselors and principal at your child’s school to set up an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. This plan will enable accommodations to be made for your kid, including breaks from homework during difficult times, time outs during the school day, and longer times to take tests.
Parenting a child with a mental illness is a difficult, but doable challenge. If your child has bipolar disorder, there will be times when they feel utterly depressed or riled up with delusions of grandeur.
You can rise to this challenge. Use these five practical tips to help you.
I wish you well in your journey.
- How to Shield Your Children From the Effects of Your Bipolar Disorder
- Bipolar Disorder in Children
- How to Spot Depression in Children, Even Preschoolers