Bipolar disorder is a condition that affects the brain areas
that regulate impulse control, emotions, speech, thought, planning, and
memory. Children with bipolar disorder
are extremely influenced by their impulses and surroundings. This situation makes it difficult
for them to behave appropriately at times, even if they are being regulated
with medication. Parenting a
child with bipolar disorder can be challenging, but there are ways to help a
bipolar child manage their behaviors.
Though some things might seem obvious or like common sense
to an outsider, when coping with acting-out behavior, it is not always easy to
see what can be done. There are
several strategies that can be helpful in managing the behaviors of children
with bipolar disorder. The first
thing parents can do is to be proactive in managing their children’s
One such measure is to ensure a consistent schedule. This step involves making sure the
child sticks to a routine regarding medication (if on a regime), sleep, home
activities, and outside activities.
Keeping to routines help to reduce stress and help to manage impulsivity
and risky behaviors. Routines also
help parents be more aware of changes in mood and behaviors that may indicate a
swing or acting-out behaviors.
Awareness and avoidance of triggers helps manage the bipolar
child’s behavior. When early signs are recognized, parents can move in quickly
to help children through difficult situations. Warning signs of an approaching manic episode may
include extreme irritability or silliness, intense outbursts, high energy level
maintained for long periods of time, reduction in the need for sleep,
hyper-vigilance to a task, racing thoughts, reckless behavior, or symptoms of a
psychosis such as paranoia.
There are times when no amount of preparation can curtail a
child’s acting-out behavior. When
those moments arise, parents need some tools to manage their children’s
behaviors. Several strategies can
be used to help address these behaviors.
Pick your battles:
It’s a common phrase, but choosing what to enforce and what to ignore
can be helpful when dealing with behaviors of a child with bipolar disorder. Everything the child does incorrectly
doesn’t need to be addressed. Constant
reprimanding results in a child who simply stops hearing and, for children with
bipolar disorder in particular, can increase the stress and trigger more
When parents decide which behaviors to reinforce or discourage, they
need to be consistent in the reinforcement or discouragement of those
behaviors. All children test
limits; children with bipolar disorder are no different in this area. For these children, it is even more
imperative parents adhere to consistency. Children with bipolar disorder often have a need for
control. Consistency helps
them understand and integrate a sense of control.
Balance praise and negative comments: Children need to hear positive comments
from their parents. Always
focusing on the negative does little to help self-worth grow and mature.
Placing more focus on positive actions gives more power to those actions. Using a reward system can be
helpful in this area. Many parents
are resistant to this strategy, believing it to be “bribing” their children. Properly using a reward system
can work wonders for children with bipolar disorder. Rewards are given for positive behavior. Negative behavior
is not rewarded, nor are earned rewards taken away. Start with easily achieved goals and proceed from
there. The goal is not to reward
every single positive behavior, but to get the child to eventually accept things
such as hugs or praise as adequate rewards for positive behavior.
Natural and logical consequences: Children with bipolar disorder tend to have a more intense
sense of fairness than other children. While they may not totally accept a discipline measure
entirely, if it is fair in their minds, it has a better chance of working. Logical consequences are important to
implement control over negative behavior. Natural consequences are what would happen on its own
without parental direction. If the
child is not in danger, it is often a wise choice to let nature take its course
and allow the child to learn. The
caveat is not to put the child’s safety at risk. Logical consequences are directed by the parents,
though may have some overlap with natural consequences. The consequence is related to the
action. The importance here is to be consistent. The child should know the rules and the possible
consequences. Consider discipline
that “fits the crime” instead of punishment.
Using these strategies may be difficult for many people, but if
used consistently can help manage the behavior of the child with bipolar
disorder. It is important for
parents to check their own emotions; they may need a time-out for
themselves. Always discipline
in a calm frame of mind, gather a support network to help when needed, and remember
discipline is teaching while punishment is intimidation.
Photo by familymwr