Self-Care Ideas for Parents Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Are you a parent stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic looking for self-care ideas? Look no further! Read this post from the Bipolar Parent for over 50 ideas!

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As I’ve said in my last two posts–How to Manage Being Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder, and How to Make Time for Self-Care as a Parent During the Coronavirus Pandemic–self-care is crucial for you to continue functioning as a parent.

This is true always, but is especially true as a parent stuck at home during self-quarantine for the coronavirus pandemic.

But what is self-care? A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.

There are 7 types of self-care: physical, emotional, relational, social, intellectual, spiritual, and safety and security self-care.

Read on for self-care ideas you can do while stuck at home that cover all 7 of these areas.

Make notes of the ideas that apply to your life or that you want to try, and see which ones you can incorporate your children into. Put a C by those ideas. Next, put an I by those ideas that you need independent me-time for. We’ll come back to this later.

Some of these ideas are taken from a sheet given to me by the teachers at Lake Washington Toddler Group.

Self-care ideas for parents stuck at home during coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

Physical Self-Care Ideas

Physical needs are usually the most insistent. When we’re hungry, we feel it in our bellies and throats. Here are some ideas on how to meet our physical needs. Some of these are done alone, and some are best done with others:

  • Exercise, on your own and as a family.
  • Sleep as much as you can and nap when your child naps. For a post on how to get forty winks despite the sleep disturbances and insomnia of bipolar disorder, click here.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Take a hot shower.
  • Drink tea or hot chocolate.
  • Go on a long walk outside with your child in the stroller or sling.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • If you do get sick, call your medical providers and let them know, to see if you need to come in to their offices.

Emotional Self-Care Ideas

Emotional self-care is ensuring that you are emotionally and mentally healthy. You need to express a range of feelings in order to take care of yourself emotionally. Here are some ideas to meet your emotional needs:

  • Prioritize the activities that make you happy.
  • Spend time alone each day.
  • Check in with your therapist if they offer virtual visits.
  • Indulge in a good, cleansing cry.
  • Listen to a comedy show.
  • Watch a movie that you love.
  • Say no to extra responsibilities.

Relational Self-Care Ideas

Relational self-care is ensuring your relationships with your family members are strong. Familial relationships are critical for good mental health, as without them you may feel alone and unsupported. And with all the time you’re spending with your family during the coronavirus crisis, you can deepen your relationships with them. Relational self-care ideas include:

  • Cuddle, kiss, and hug your children.
  • Make love to your partner, if you have one and you have a sexual relationship.
  • Play a game with your family.
  • Play a game specifically with your partner, after your kids have gone to bed.
  • Establish healthy boundaries around alone time for everyone, and respect those boundaries.
  • Foster honest communication about your needs, and those of your partner and children.
  • Encourage respect for each other and others.

Social Self-Care Ideas

Social self-care is strengthening relationships with those outside your immediate family. Socialization is so important to your mental health, even if you’re an introvert. It’s part of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid. Ideas for social self-care include:

  • Check in with family and friends via Facetime, Skype, phone calls, or texts.
  • Ask friends and family to remind you that things will be okay, and that what you’re feeling is temporary.
  • Cuddle with your immediate family or a pet.
  • Schedule time each day to talk to another adult.
  • Intentionally reconnect with someone you’ve lost touch with or have unresolved conflict with.
  • Leave a funny voicemail for someone you care about.
  • Join an online support group or forum.

Intellectual Self-Care Ideas

Intellectual self-care is looking after your intellectual pursuits and critical thinking skills. One of the best ways to develop your intellectual self-care repitoire is to engage in creative pursuits. Here are some intellectual self-care ideas while you’re stuck at home:

  • Check your library’s website for their online catalog, and check out some books to read on your phone or ereader.
  • Read books slightly above your child’s grade level to them.
  • Listen to podcasts or audio books while you work.
  • If your child is doing an art project, sit down with them and create your own art.
  • Write something, be it a blog, stories, or a personal journal.
  • Watch documentaries on TV, from the library, or on a streaming service.
  • Identify a project that would be challenging and rewarding, and then plan to do it.
  • Return to old hobbies that you may not have pursued since the birth of your children.

Spiritual Self-Care Ideas

Spiritual self-care is not synonymous with religion, though it can take the form of attending church services and praying to a higher power. It’s a search for purpose and understanding in the universe, and expressing values that are important to us. Spiritual self-care ideas include:

  • Pray or meditate, especially in front of your children.
  • Volunteer to pick up groceries for an elderly friend or neighbor.
  • Write in a journal to reflect upon your new life.
  • Be open to inspiration and awe.
  • Contribute to causes you believe in.
  • Spend time outside in your front yard or on your balcony.
  • Attend religious services online.

Safety and Security Self-Care Ideas

Safety and security self-care involves having health insurance and being smart about your personal safety. Understanding the financial sphere falls under this type of self-care. Many people wait to evaluate their safety or finances until they’re in trouble. Don’t do that. Make sure you have contingency plans. Here are some ideas for safety and security self-care that you can do while stuck at home:

  • Check out an ebook from the library on investing, and read it.
  • Read backlogs of articles on personal finance sites.
  • Double-check your locks. Change them if someone might have a key that you don’t want to.
  • Order a locking mailbox on Amazon and install it when it arrives.
  •  Change your internet passwords.
  • Call your insurance company and find out if they cover virtual medical appointments.
  • Go through your credit card statements line by line and see if there are any charges that you don’t recognize.
  • Examine your bills (utilities, cell phone, internet, streaming services). Find out if there are any fees you don’t want, and call the companies to see if those fees can be waived.

Final Thoughts

Self-care isn’t complex. But it can be difficult to think of ideas to do, especially while you’re stuck at home with your kids due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Review your list to see which ideas you can incorporate your children into and which ideas you need me-time for.

If you’ve placed a C next to the ones you can do with your children and an I for ones you need independent time for, then pick out one or two that you can do tomorrow.

Start with the C ideas. Once you’ve performed some self-care alongside your children, find some time to work on the I ideas.

(For a post on how to find time for self-care as a parent stuck at home, click here.)

Self-care, especially independent self-care, can make you feel better. You may soon see the rewards–for yourself and for your family–of a little bit of me-time.

I wish you well in your journey.

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How to Make Time for Self-Care as a Parent During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Are you a parent with bipolar disorder trapped inside with your kids due to the coronavirus pandemic? Read this post by the Bipolar Parent for practical tips on how to make time for self-care!

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A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.

Self-care is simpler than you might think. Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.

As I said in my last post, How to Manage Being Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder, self-care is crucial for your daily functioning as a parent with bipolar disorder. This is true always, but especially true during self-quarantining due to the coronavirus outbreak.

I also shared a daily schedule my toddler and I try to follow, which had room for eating, sleeping, outside time, and work, but not much else.

So how do you find the time to do self-care when you’re stuck at home with small children–and you need to work?

Here are some practical tips that you might want to try while in self-quarantine.

How to make time for self-care as a parent during the coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

Tip #1: Fill Your Child’s “Tanks”

Sometimes, your kids whine and glom onto you like limpets. That’s usually when they have a physical or emotional need.

Often, before you separate from your children to perform self-care for yourself, you need to fill their physical or emotional “tanks.”

Spend a little time with your children before jetting off, and you’re less likely to be interrupted when you do go take that bubble bath.

Set them up with a snack, give them some kisses and cuddles, and play racecar driver with them. Listen to your tween’s ramblings about Minecraft for a while. You’ll be glad you did.

Generally, the happier your kids are when you leave them (provided they can be left; toddlers can’t, which I’ll cover in the next tip), the more time you’ll be able to take for yourself.

Tip #2: Preplan STEAM Projects

This follows my tip #5 from yesterday: to keep your child entertained and busy on their own with independent play, prepare STEM/Art, or STEAM projects. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering. and Math. With Art, that’s STEAM.

Yesterday, I listed several activities my 3-year-old has done and the supplies we have on our crafting shelf. I won’t list them all again here, but if you’re looking for ideas for a toddler, check them out.

As I write this, she was sorting through buttons with a clothespin, placing them into a cup. She worked on fine motor skills and shape recognition, both parts of STEAM for a toddler. She also worked on counting, as she counted the buttons, and pattern recognition as she sorted them by color.

STEAM activities are as simple as that. The last time she did this activity, she entertained herself for an hour with minimal input from me.

This time, she lasted about 20 minutes, and then we made purple playdough. She’s currently kneading and rolling out the homemade dough, then cutting it into shapes with cookie cutters. So far, she’s been entertained for 45 minutes by the playdough alone, enabling me to write.

In preplanning activities, I printed a calendar for March, and spent a couple of hours listing one activity per day. We do this project at 1pm every afternoon. The calendar has taken a lot of the pressure off of me to think of something every day.

Take a couple of hours to preplan activities and write them down on a calendar for April. You can pick up supplies at any grocery store or order them on Amazon.

Two great resources for toddler STEAM projects are Little Bins for Little Hands and Busy Toddler. For older kids, try STEM Activities for Kids.

Preparing STEAM projects takes a little up front work, but the payoff of more time for work–or, preferably, self-care–is worth it.

Tip #3: Prepare Meals on the Weekends

This tip is similar to tip #2: prepare meals on the weekends, also known as meal prepping. If you do as much upfront work on your meals as possible, you don’t have to make dinner during the week.

This saves a huge amount of time, some of which can be used for self-care.

Slow cooker “dump meals” are meals where you place all the ingredients in a Ziploc bag and then dump them in the slow cooker on the morning you want to cook it. The food cooks all day and smells wonderful, tastes great at night, and takes minimal prep on the weekend.

Brown all your ground beef on Saturdays. Chop all your vegetables. Bake and shred that chicken. Soak and cook those beans.

Make cooking a family activity. All hands on deck means less work for you, and the kids get to learn something, too.

There are many websites on the internet devoted to meal prepping. Type that term into your preferred browser’s search bar, and you will find sites that list recipes, meal plans, and shopping lists for a week’s meals or more.

Tip #4: Get Support from Your Partner

If you’re lucky to have a partner isolating himself or herself with you, count your blessings.

If you’re burned out and need a little bit of me-time, ask your partner for some support. Ask them to watch the kids for an hour while you take a nap.

Most partners are supportive if you ask, but sometimes we don’t know how to ask or even what we need. Figure that out before you approach your partner.

Take some time after the kids are in bed to make a list of self-care ideas that appeal to you, and the time each will take. Then figure out what is reasonable to ask of your partner.

Don’t be afraid to ask; the worst thing they can say is no, and that opens up a chance for you two to have a conversation.

Be sure to reciprocate as well. If your partner offers you an hour to yourself, offer them the same in return.

Final Thoughts

These times are stressful for everyone, especially parents with bipolar disorder who also have to work at home. You’re wearing many hats: homeschooler, partner, parent, employee, and mental illness manager.

Self-care is critical for your survival. You have to eat, sleep, and spend time by yourself so you have a chance to breathe.

Take care of yourself. Stay healthy.

I wish you well in your journey.

Tune in next week for types of self-care, as well as several self-care ideas for parents with bipolar disorder isolated at home with their kids.

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How to Manage Being Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder

Stuck at home due to coronavirus quarantining? Read on for practical tips on how to manage working at home as a parent with bipolar disorder, from this post by The Bipolar Parent!

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Panic about coronavirus has infected all of our lives. As of this writing, one in three Americans are under shelter-in-place orders. Our kids’ schools are canceled, and if you can work from home, that’s a great blessing in disguise–as well as being distracting as all get out.

So how do you survive being stuck at home as a bipolar parent, especially of young children? Read on for some practical tips from me, a woman with bipolar disorder in the trenches with an 11-year-old and a 3-year-old.

Stuck at Home? How to Manage Work At Home as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

Tip #1: Understand Your Kids’ Limits

Unfortunately for everyone, most children, especially toddlers, are not self-sufficient. As a parent, and especially as a parent with bipolar disorder, you need to understand their limits–and yours.

Your children need to be fed, cared for, and entertained. You don’t have to entertain them all the time–independent play is a beautiful thing–but you do need to set them up with projects or toys so you can get some work done.

Give your children–and yourself–some grace during this stressful period. The panic about coronavirus is temporary. As soon as the virus is under control, your life will largely go back to normal.

If your back is against the wall and you’re about to start snapping at your kids, it’s okay to relax your guidelines on screen time, for example, just so you can get a breather (and get some work done). This is an extraordinary time, and extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures–of patience, as well as other things.

My toddler is currently in the bath, pouring water into and out of cups and singing to herself, while I’m writing this. I’m sitting on the toilet with my laptop on my crossed legs. Do whatever you have to do to keep sane and get some time for yourself.

Tip #2: Don’t Neglect Your Mental Health

If you have medications, take them. I can’t say it any clearer than that.

This is the worst time to have a mood episode. Your children need a sane parent. You need stability to get through this. Forgetting to take your medication is not an option. Set an alarm on your phone if you have to.

I take my morning meds before I sit down for breakfast and my evening meds immediately after dinner. Find a time (or two times, if you have morning and evening meds) that you can stick to every day.

Take your medication.

And call upon your coping skills. You need them to survive. Depression can strike at any time, especially in a time where most people are isolated from their supportive social networks.

Which leads to my next tip.

Tip #3: Practice Self-care

We all know the airplane oxygen mask metaphor. Before you help your little ones, you need to put on your own oxygen mask.

This means that self-care is crucial for you to function as a parent with bipolar disorder. Don’t neglect to take care of yourself; if you’re run down, you won’t be able to parent effectively, and you may even end up getting sick.

A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.
There are six big statutes of self-care which need to be practiced daily:

  • getting enough sleep
  • eating a healthy diet
  • drinking plenty of water
  • exercising
  • spending some time outside
  • socializing with other people. Tap into your social network via FaceTime or Skype and ask for support during a time when you might be feeling vulnerable.

Tip #4: Create a Schedule

Kids (and adults) thrive on routine. I know creating a schedule and sticking to it are some of the most difficult suggestions to follow for parents with bipolar disorder, but if you want to remain sane while staying at home with your kids, you must. Creating a schedule is imperative.

You don’t have to plan down to the minute. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Plan in thirty-minute or hour-long blocks. Try to have the same wake times and sleep times every day. If you can, wake up thirty minutes before your children, to get some time to center yourself (or work).

My toddler’s schedule looks like this:

  • 8:30am – Toddler gets dressed, brushes teeth, brushes hair, comes down for breakfast
  • 9:00am – Breakfast
  • 10:00am – Chores
  • 11:00am – Playing outside on the trampoline or in the kiddy pool while Mom watches (and gets some work done on her laptop or phone)
  • 12:30pm – Lunch (usually scrambled eggs or something else quick and nutritious)
  • 1pm – STEAM project at the kitchen table while Mom gets work done
  • 2pm – 30 minutes of reading
  • 2:30pm – more outside time
  • 4:30pm – screen time while Mom makes dinner
  • 5:30pm – dinner
  • 6pm – Playing with toys or more STEAM projects while Mom gets work done
  • 7pm – bath and bedtime routine
  • 8:30pm – bed for Toddler
  • 9:00pm – Mom gets more work done
  • 10:30pm – Mom goes to bed

We don’t follow this schedule to a T every day–my toddler took a bath at 3:30pm today, and will take another at 7pm tonight, for example–but it’s a good basic outline.

We do a lot of STEM/Art projects, which leads me to the next tip.

Tip #5: Prepare STEM/Art Projects

STEM/Art, also known as STEAM, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. For a toddler, these are as simple as practicing cutting a straight line. Fine motor skills, pattern recognition, and counting are all a part of STEAM.

When the cancellation of my 3-year-old’s preschool was looming, I knew I had to take action. So I looked up toddler-friendly STEAM activities on the internet (Busy Toddler and Little Bins for Little Hands are great resources) and printed a calendar off for March. I wrote one activity per day, and have been following that calendar religiously. Every day at 1pm, we do the scheduled activity on the calendar.

In doing STEAM projects, we have:

  • glued different-sized buttons to paper
  • dug blueberries out of a Tupperware-shaped ice cube with a butter knife
  • threaded pipe cleaners through a colander
  • painted landscapes and faces on construction paper with watercolors
  • made playdough
  • picked up different-sized buttons with a clothespin from a bag and placed them into a cup
  • baked bread together.

Some of these projects, like the blueberry-ice excavation, entertained her for up to two hours. Some, like the colander threading, lasted all of one minute (that’s a rare case). Gluing and playdough lasted an hour each. These activities have been hit or miss, mostly hit.

And since we’re at the kitchen table, the mess is largely contained. I now have a crafting shelf on a bookshelf right next to the table stocked with:

  • pipe cleaners
  • buttons
  • Elmer’s glue
  • construction paper
  • sticker books
  • kid-friendly scissors
  • markers
  • watercolors and brushes
  • pom poms of various sizes
  • colored pencils
  • crayons.

Today we peeled stickers off of a sticker book and stuck them to purple construction paper. Toddler activities are as simple as that, and she was entertained for 30 minutes while I cleaned the kitchen.

Take a couple of hours after the kids have gone to bed to prepare a calendar full of activities. Even one STEAM activity a day is great for their budding brains. You can purchase supplies at any grocery store or Target. (I purchased mine on Amazon before delivery slowed down.)

Tip #6: Remember Your Priorities

Hopefully, your kids are your highest priority (after self-care, but often times for a busy parent, the kids come first). Sometimes the schedule all goes to pot and your kids are whiny, needy, and generally require a lot of attention.

That’s okay. Show your kids that you love them that day. Tomorrow will be better.

Ask your boss to give you leniency in this stressful time. Any boss worth their salt will understand the new crunch you’re under, and that this is temporary. If you can’t get work done while the kids are awake, then plan to work like a demon after they’re in bed.

But don’t pull an all-nighter, as tempting as that sounds. You need your sleep to fend off a manic or hypomanic episode. You need to keep your mental health in balance and stay stable. Prioritizing your sleep does prioritize your work and your kids, because you’re prioritizing yourself.

Without taking care of your mental health, you can’t be present as a parent or an employee. So take care of yourself (tips #2 and #3) so you can take care of your kids–and everything else on your plate.

Prioritize self-care. Prioritize your kids. Try to get your work done as much as possible, but ask for grace–and give some to yourself.

What About Older Kids?

You may have noticed that I mentioned I had a 3-year-old and an 11-year-old, but that I’ve mostly talked about working from home with a toddler. That is because my 11-year-old is mostly self-sufficient, thank goodness.

He wakes up, brushes his own teeth, pours his own cereal, calls his friends, does his homework, and puts himself to bed at night. I make him lunch and dinner.

I made a calendar of STEAM activities for him, too, but he wasn’t interested in any of them. So I ordered workbooks one grade level higher than his current grade, and told him to do 2 1/2 hours of work everyday. He likes baking, so he bakes bread and pizza–with homemade sauce, cheese, and pepperoni and olives–for himself whenever we have the yeast (the store has been out lately).

But what if your child is not that self-motivated? Well, then most of the toddler tips still apply. Create a schedule together, and scale up the STEAM activities to their age level. STEM Activities for Kids is a great resource for older kids.

Fortunately, independent play is much easier to set up for an 8- or 9-year-old, as they can generally be trusted with a bottle of glue without spilling it. And even if they do, they can clean the mess up themselves.

This tip applies only to older kids: If you are fortunate enough to have a home office or even your own bedroom, communicate with your kids that Mom or Dad has “office hours” for 1-2 hours at a time every day, or however long you feel comfortable leaving them to unsupervised play. Then set them up with a STEAM activity and let them have at it.

Tell your kids not to interrupt you unless someone’s hurt or have set something on fire. Set your office hours to the times when you’ll have conference calls, and hopefully you’ll be able to attend that virtual meeting without kiddos joining in.

Also, kids, especially older ones, are allowed to be bored. It’s a good time to let them find (safe) ways to amuse themselves. Reading is always a good idea; my son’s school requires 30 minutes of reading a day, and I extend that to the weekends to give me 30 minutes of peace on Saturdays and Sundays.

Final Thoughts

I’m not saying my schedule will work for everyone. You don’t even have to do multiple STEAM activities in a day like we do. But do try to make a schedule, and try to let your children loose with glue and paints once in a while. Let the kids be kids.

If this sounds like a lot of extra work, well, it is. Parenting is hard work; always has been, always will be. And working from home when you have children with you is the pinnacle of parenting.

But you can handle this. You are self-quarantining only temporarily. This, too, will pass.

Understand your kids’ limits (and your own), don’t neglect your mental health, practice self-care, create a schedule, prepare STEM/Art projects, and remember your priorities.

You’ve got this.

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Stuck at Home? How to Manage Work At Home as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder - CassandraStout.com

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Common Pitfalls When Communicating With Your Kids About Your Bipolar Disorder, Part II

This is part one of a two-part post. [Part I | Part II]

Communicating with your children about your bipolar disorder is crucial for managing their relationship with your and your mental illness. In part I, we looked at common pitfalls, including your kids being too young and disrespecting your children’s boundaries. Read on for one more common pitfall of communicating about your psychiatric condition.

Waiting Too Long

teens
A picture of three teenaged boys in swim trunks sitting outside. Credit to flickr.com user Mighty mighty bigmac. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

On the flipside of your kids being too young, you might have put off having this discussion until your kids are teens. Then your kids might be too old to listen to you properly. Some teens think they know everything, and refuse to hear out their parents or other authority figures, however well-meaning.

A friend of mine, a mother of four, related her experience of being rebuffed by her teenagers when she brought up serious subjects, and what she did to handle that. She said to them, “Just let me do the ‘mom thing’ for thirty seconds, and then I’ll let you go, okay?” She said they’d roll their eyes, but acquiesce to listen to whatever she had to tell them.

Tips For Communicating With Your Kids About Your Bipolar Disorder

You might not know where to start the conversation when speaking to your kids for the first time about mental illness. That’s okay. You can simply say something like, “you may have noticed that I have been erratic lately. I have a disease, bipolar disorder, which causes me to have different mood episodes, called mania and depression.” As long as you have their attention, be concrete and pragmatic.

If you’ve waited until your children are teenagers to talk to them about your bipolar disorder, there is a danger of their being angry, especially if the discussion arises from comments on your behavior, and not by your choice. If this is what happened, you haven’t ruined anything, but do expect to deal with your children’s anger. The best way to handle that is to prepare for it, by thinking about what they might say ahead of time, and making sure to listen to what they actually do say. Chances are, your kids already know about your bipolar disorder. You want to make sure that what they know is the truth, and not whatever desperate version they’ve decided on.

Some teens can benefit from statistics. For example, your kids are between 15-30% likely to develop bipolar disorder if one parent suffers from the disease, whereas they’re 45-60% likely if both parents do. You might be tempted to hide this information, so as not to freak them out. But knowing accurate facts about mental illness helps them to understand you better, and possibly themselves.

Knowledge, even uncomfortable knowledge, is better than the unknown. In addition, if they know common symptoms of bipolar disorder, they can be on the lookout for those symptoms in themselves and their friends, and understand you when you’re experiencing mood episodes.

Final Thoughts

Try not to hide information from your kids, especially teenagers. If you don’t inform them about your mental illness, they’ll probably turn to friends to ask why their mom or dad is acting strange. Or they might hide the dysfunction entirely, blaming themselves and growing up in a culture of shame. Reassure your kids that you will always love them, regardless of how your bipolar disorder makes you feel in the moment. And above all, be honest.

I wish you luck in your journey.

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How to Spot Bipolar Disorder in Teens And What to do About It

Bipolar disorder, a mental illness of two extremes, is difficult to spot in teenagers because even healthy teens are volatile. The disease typically develops in the early 20s.  But the symptoms are often misdiagnosed, especially in teens. What does bipolar disorder look like in a teenager, and how does a parent spot it?

Let‘s dig in.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by “highs” (called mania), and “lows” (called depression). Bipolar patients also have hypomanic episodes. Hypomania means “below mania,” and is considered a lesser form of mania. There are also mixed episodes, where a bipolar patient suffers a form of mania and depression at once.

teenager
Three teenage boys playing on a guitar. Credit to flickr.com user chiesADIbeinasco.
Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Common Symptoms

Teen-onset bipolar disorder is similar to adult-onset. Adolescents suffer similar symptoms to adults. Here are the symptoms of manic, hypomanic, and depressive episodes in teens:

Mania Hypomania Depression
  • Racing speech and thoughts
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Elevated mood and excessive cheerfulness
  • Increased physical and mental activity
  • Hypersexuality
  • Reckless and risk-taking behaviors
  • Drop in grades
  • Irritability, aggressive behavior, and impatience
  • Excessive spending
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Grandiosity
  • Productivity
  • Exuberant and elated mood
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Elevated mood and excessive cheerfulness
  • Unusual confidence
  • Hypersexuality
  • Reckless and risk-taking behaviors
  • Extreme focus on projects at work or at home
  • Increased creativity
  • Anhedonia – loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities
  • Sadness or irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Shame or guilt
  • Sleeping too much or insomnia
  • Drop in grades
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Anger, worry, and anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

But there is one crucial difference between teenagers and adults who suffer bipolar disorder: teenagers tend to be rapid cyclers, which means they suffer mood episodes more frequently than adults. Adults typically vacillate between defined episodes of hypomania, mania, and depression, with periods of wellness in between lasting from weeks to years. But teenagers vacillate between extreme mood states within hours to days, with very few periods of wellness in between. Teens are similar to children with regard to rapid cycling.

Irritability and Rage

Teens who suffer from bipolar disorder can exhibit irritability during both manic and depressive phases, just like children and adults. For teenagers, irritability can be a constant issue during the manic phase. Like children, teens are more likely than adults to become irritable. Unlike most children and adults, however, adolescents who present with irritability are more likely to be hostile, and even violent.

Slamming doors, yelling, and even telling parents that they hate them is normal for many teenagers, and they recover quickly. But a bipolar teen’s rage is much more extreme. He or she might not be able to calm down for days to weeks. They may hit themselves or others, or break possessions. Adolescents suffering from mania may think their parents are out to get them, to the point where the teens hide in their rooms or throw away their phones. In extreme cases, teens may end up psychotic, where they engage in delusions, hear voices, or see things that aren’t there. If your teen is acting paranoid or psychotic, he or she may need to be hospitalized.

Issues with School

School may be more difficult for teenagers with bipolar disorder than those without. High school forces teens to keep a very rigid schedule, and there is a lot of pressure to perform. If hospitalized, they may miss school and must catch up, resulting in more stress due to missed workload. 

Social navigation can also trouble teens. For teenagers, explaining their bipolar disorder to their friends may be next to impossible. Teens with bipolar might suffer guilt or shame after an episode, which makes dealing with their illness even more difficult, and may impact their friendships.

Solutions/Taking Action

If you can’t tell if your teen suffers from bipolar disorder and you have doubts, it’s okay to consult a doctor. Get a referral from your child’s pediatrician to a behavioral therapist or child psychologist. Refer to the symptom chart, and describe your teen’s manic and depressive symptoms to the doctors. There’s no neon sign over your child’s head that will tell you definitively that your teen has a mood disorder. But if you have suspicions, getting a psychiatric evaluation for your teen is the best step you can take. A diagnosis may help both you and your teen as you parent during his or her adolescence. For more on what to do if your child is bipolar, click here.

Parenting a bipolar teen may be extra difficult. You need to teach him or her how to manage extreme emotional states, and how to deal with his or her rage in a constructive manner. But don’t give up. Dig in now and keep looking for help. There used to be few resources for dealing with mood disorders; now there are plenty.

Even with help, these are going to be difficult years. Finding a balance may be tricky. But there is hope for teenagers with bipolar disorder. Bipolar is one of the most treatable disorders. With talk therapy, and possibly medication, your teen can live a healthy and fulfilling life. You can raise a successful bipolar adults, but first you need to get through the teen years.

I wish you luck in your journey.

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Interview With My Parents: On Raising a Bipolar Child

One of our greatest resources for memories about our childhoods is of course our parents. I asked mine for their perspectives on what my growing up bipolar was like for them. I did not have a diagnosis until I was twenty-one, but showed evidence of bipolar disorder since I was a teenager–in hindsight. Here are their responses:

What was it like raising a bipolar child?

Mom: Confusing! That about sums it up. You have an inkling that something is wrong, but where do you start looking? No professionals–teachers, doctors, social workers–no one said anything. If someone had told me, “you need to look into bipolar disorder,” I would have jumped on that. If someone had told me to read an article, I would have.

Dad: See how it’s a fluid field of study, now. There’s so much more out there than there used to be.

Mom: The first thing I read was that children turned out this way because the mother was cold. And I knew that couldn’t be right.

Dad: But being that you were our first child, you had a lot of attention given to you. Some children demand more.

Mom: Hindsight is 20-20. There’s a lot more out there, now. “Cassandra, bipolar” would have never gone together my mind. Then there’s the guilt, after you find out a diagnosis. You think you could have done something, that you should have known.

Dad: Your mother was concerned by why you weren’t tactile. We didn’t understand the hypersensitivity. But on the positive side, you would wow people with your intellectual abilities.

Mom: Going to school for you was exhausting–completely, physically, emotionally exhausting. You were putting on an act to be normal, and you’d come home and cry yourself to sleep every night.

Dad: There was a pressure to socialize.

Mom: My family and my church family would say, “There’s nothing wrong with her!” But they were completely blind to it.

Dad: Or in denial.

Mom: Yeah, that, too. But mostly blind. There’s a stigma of labeling. One thing I was not prepared for was when you were angry in high school. You were just frustrated and angry with yourself and your world, and I had no time or energy to deal with it. But your frustration was just overwhelming to you and to me. Life had completely gotten out of hand at that point. But during the end of high school and the first years of college, you had these major meltdowns of depression. You were just listless. And you weren’t feeding yourself or taking a shower–you couldn’t!

What does it feel like being the parent of a bipolar adult?

Mom: Extreme relief that you have excellent medical care. And not only that, but that you have a husband who studies and understands each symptom as they crop up. He has no qualms about raising a child with you–about raising two children with you!

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Credit to flickr.com user yat fai ooi. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Dad: [Your husband] doesn’t say much, so you can’t assume–

Mom: But I see the results. What does it feel like being the parent of a bipolar adult? I worry about you. That’s normal for any child. With all of my children who have a handicap, so to speak, I’ve lowered my expectations. So when they do achieve things, I’m surprised, even more than I am proud.

Dad: She learned that from me.

If I had had a diagnosis, would you have done anything differently?

Mom: Had I known, I would have treated you differently. And maybe that’s a bad thing. I treated you like a normal person because I didn’t know any better.

Thank you, Mom and Dad! I hope these insights will inspire other adults who suffer from mental health issues to talk to the people who raised them, if they have that kind of relationship with their caretakers.

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What to do if Your Child has Bipolar Disorder

So you’ve discussed your child’s symptoms with a pediatric mental health specialist, and have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. What now? Thankfully, there are some suggestions you can take, and taking care of your child with bipolar disorder is similar to taking care of an adult with the disorder.

1. Pay attention to medications and therapy appointments

As a parent, you are responsible for making sure your child follows their treatment plan. Use whatever reminders you can to remember to give him or her the medication that he or she needs.  If your child must take their pills at school, then open a line of communication with his or her teachers and school nurse. Appointments with his or her therapist are also important. Make sure your child attends their appointments

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Credit to flickr.com user Cristyan González Alfonso. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

2. Monitor side effects

Some side effects of atypical antipsychotics, like weight gain and blood sugar changes, are awful in adults–and children do seem to be more prone to them. These drugs were originally formulated for adults, and few have been tested on kids. Ask your child’s psychiatrist what side effects you need to keep an eye on.

3. Work out agreements with your child’s teachers

Some children with bipolar disorder need more help at school, such as more breaks during manic episodes, or less homework. During especially bad episodes, your child may need to be removed from school until he or she stabilizes. Talk to your child’s teachers. Keeping an open line of communication is the best way to ensure your child has success at school.

4. Keep a schedule

Try to be consistent with mealtimes and bedtimes, as well as waking your child up at the same time every day. This will help keep stress in the home to a minimum. Try to be patient with your child as they adjust to new routines.

5. Go to family therapy, if needed

Taking care of a child with bipolar disorder may put a lot of stress on the family as a whole. Your marriage might suffer, and the child’s siblings might be jealous of all the attention he or she gets. Attending therapy as a family may help you handle these issues.

6. Don’t ignore threats of suicide

Suicide threats are extremely serious, even in young children who may not understand what it means. Talk to your children, and if they do have suicidal ideation, give them a safe environment. Remove all the weapons or pills from the house. And talk with their mental health specialists. Crisis lines are always open.

7. Communicate with your teenager

Teenagers may become irritated or resentful if they feel that you’re compelling them to be treated. Talk to them about why you’re giving them medication and taking them to therapy appointments. Educate your kids about their mental illness. Also, it’s important that your teenager avoid substance abuse, as the risks of developing a problem are much higher in teens with bipolar disorder. Alcohol and drugs can interact with medications poorly and worsen mood episodes, so it’s important that your teenager be made aware of the risks.

All in all, taking care of your child with bipolar disorder requires an extra level of parenting. But you can do it. There are steps you can take to help you.

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6 Strategies for Parenting with a Mental Illness

When my mother was a little girl, her mother would disappear into her bed for months at a time, punctuated by periods of restless energy and action. My grandmother was so scatterbrained, she would forget the birthdays of each of her six children. The house was extraordinarily chaotic, what with my grandmother constantly replacing furniture from auctions and worrying about money. She was never diagnosed, but her behaviors were hallmarks of mental illness.

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Credit to flickr.com user Teresa Qin. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Parenting while mentally ill adds extra challenge to people’s lives. Often, children of parents with a mental illness can feel anxious due to the chaos in the household, or unloved because their parent may be emotionally unavailable. Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy relationship with your children despite facing mental instability.

1. Get Treatment

Treatment helps a mental ill parent function properly. Being able to get out of bed in the morning to take your child to school on a regular basis requires you to manage your disorder. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. There is help available.

2. Try to Stick to a Routine

Providing structure for your kids helps them grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults. Unpredictable behaviors in a parent disintegrates a child’s sense of safety and make it difficult for children to learn self-care routines. Even though enforcing structure may be difficult, abiding by Taco Tuesdays ensures that your children will have a rock in what may be chaos otherwise.

3. Talk to Your Kids About Your Mental Illness

Arming your children with age-appropriate information helps them realize that it’s not their fault that you suffer from a mental illness. If you keep them up to date with what’s happening with you, they can learn what to expect when you’re having a down day. They’ll also learn to separate you from your disorder, which can help them feel loved.

4. Create an Emergency Plan

Should you need to be hospitalized, your kids will need someone to pick them up from school and feed them dinner. If you have a partner and treatment team, create a crisis plan with them to ensure that your children won’t be affected negatively if an emergency sidelines you. Make sure that you communicate that plan to your kids.

5. Maintain Relationships with Adult Role Models

If you can’t provide a healthy role model for your kids, make sure they have someone in their lives who can. Consistency is key in this: you want an adult that will be there for them no matter what’s going on in their lives. If you have a supportive partner, that’s half the battle. If you’re a single parent, try to find a good friend or two–probably a parent themselves–who will help.

6. Remember That You are the Parent

Your children should not parent you. They are too young to take on that kind of responsibility, and that fosters an inappropriate relationship. Prioritize taking care of yourself. Put your oxygen mask on first, then care for your kids.

Following these six strategies can help mitigate the effects of your mental illness on your kids and encourage them to grow into healthy adults. Making them feel loved is paramount to their happiness.

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How to Talk To Your Kids About Mental Illness

“Mom, are you crazy?” my eight-year-old son, Ryan, asked after reading over my shoulder while I worked on my book. My memoir, Committed, is about my stay in a mental hospital one week after Nolan’s birth, and the page he read demonstrated a particularly erratic behavior from me.

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Credit to flickr.com user Evan Long. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

“No, honey,” I said. My heart sank. I was not ready to have this conversation yet, but Ryan’s question made me think otherwise. “I do have bipolar disorder, which is a mental illness.”

“What’s bipolar disorder?” he said.

“Bipolar disorder is when I sometimes feel depressed–like nothing in the world matters anymore,” I said, patting him on the arm. “But it also means I feel super energetic sometimes, and can’t control myself very well.”

“Will I get it?” he said, his eyes widening.

“I don’t know,” I said. “You might. It comes when you’re a teenager or young adult. But there are medications available to help manage it, so don’t worry.”

“Oh,” he said, giving me a hug. “I’m sorry you have bipolar disorder, Mama.”

And that was that.  The dreaded conversation–the start of many–was over.

Arming your kids with age-appropriate information about your mental illness can help them feel secure. If you talk to them about your disorder, they will know what to expect when you have a down–or up–day. They’ll also learn to separate you from your illness, and from any negative feelings that might occur. If you don’t talk to then, they’ll invariably draw their own conclusions, which can make them feel unsure about you and their position in the world.

Here are some tips for talking about mental illness with your kids.

1. Keep it Simple

Children only need to know the basics of mental illness: it’s not contagious, they are not destined to have a disorder, there are treatments available, etc. Another important factor that goes into talking about mental disorders with your kids is stressing that it’s not their fault. They can’t make their parent better, nor should they try. They can only support their mother 0r father by checking in on them, watching movies with them, and generally being their awesome selves.

2. Reassure Them

Explain to your children if they ask that they might get your disorder, but reassure them that there are treatments available and that you’re getting help yourself, if you are. Tell your kids that you still love them, and no amount of mental illness will change that.

3. Know Your Child’s Maturity Level

All kids are different, and mature at different rates. Preschoolers will only want very basic information about why you’re sad. Preteens will want more information, so give them as much as you think they can handle. Teenagers will often turn to their friends when seeking information about things that bother them, so make sure they’re well-informed.

4. Address Their Fears

Ask your children if they have any worries now that you’ve brought up the topic. Reassure them that their needs will be met and that you’re not going anywhere. Repeat information if they appear confused. It may be helpful to bring their fears up with a mental health professional, so you can make a plan to address them.

5. Make Yourself Available

Make sure you don’t end the conversation there. Children will have questions as they grow, and it’s important that you be available to answer them. Explain to your kids that they are always welcome to ask questions of you about this topic.

Talking with your kids about mental illness can be tough. But if you’re open to it, they’ll appreciate your candor and feel more secure knowing what’s going on with their parent.

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