March 10, 2022

Disciplining a Bipolar Child

Finding out your loved one has bipolar disorder can be difficult to internalize. It's even more difficult when your child is diagnosed. However, having a proper diagnosis is a necessary part of recovery.

Unfortunately, many signs of bipolar disorder might go unnoticed, or be mistaken for other illnesses. If your child has bipolar disorder, it's important to recognize the signs, get them the help they need, and show proper boundaries and discipline techniques as a parent.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a type of mental illness characterized by severe changes in mood. Although many people might describe mild changes in their mood as "being bipolar," the changes in true bipolar disorder are much more than simply feeling sad or happy.

Teens and adolescents with bipolar disorder will show symptoms of mania and depression. 

Mania is characterized by symptoms such as:

  • Needing little sleep
  • Psychosis
  • Paranoia
  • Illusions of grandeur
  • Racing thoughts
  • Hyperverbal speech, which means rambling speech
  • Agitation

Depression is characterized by symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in everyday activities
  • Low energy, such as not wanting to get out of bed
  • Body aches
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Crying spells

Is Bipolar Disorder Possible in Teens?

As a parent, it's important to know that most people are diagnosed with bipolar disorder when they are in their teens or early adolescence. As such, if you notice any of the above signs in your child, they could be cause for concern.

In addition to Bipolar Disorder, your child might also have co-occurring mental illnesses, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance use disorder
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD

How To Get Help In Disciplining A Bipolar Child

Parents should always try to guide their children to behave appropriately, prevent them from acting out, and provide boundaries within the home.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know how to parent a child with bipolar disorder without professional help. Fortunately, speaking with your healthcare provider and getting help from a therapist can help you properly diagnose your child. Getting a proper diagnosis is crucial when disciplining a bipolar child.

For instance, without a proper diagnosis, you might mistake your child's depressive symptoms as simply "going through a phase," or "being blue." On the contrary, depressive symptoms can quickly turn serious. Sadly, around 20% to 47% of teens with bipolar disorder have attempted suicide. This is a scary statistic and shows just how important it is to get your child the help they need.

Maneuvering through the Depressive Stage

Never tell your child to simply "get over" their symptoms. Call 911 or the suicide hotline right away if your child expresses feelings of hopelessness or self-harm.

Speak with your child and offer professional counseling and help from a therapist. You should also inform your healthcare provider of depressive symptoms. They can suggest changes in medication to help ease symptoms of depression.

Maneuvering through the Manic Stage

Call your healthcare provider immediately if you notice signs of psychosis in your child. If your teen isn't sleeping, is behaving inappropriately, and is showing signs of agitation, these can all point to a manic episode.

Don't assume your child is simply "acting out," or even under the influence of substances. Although bipolar disorder does increase the risk of substance use in teens, manic episodes can also mimic symptoms of hallucinogenics and drugs known as "uppers."

If you feel your safety or your child's safety is at risk, contact a mental health center or hospital right away to see how they can help.

How to Help Bipolar Child Thrive

Although it can be difficult to help a child with their bipolar disorder, it's a necessary part of recovery. By getting them the proper treatment, including:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Stress management
  • Medications
  • Recognizing and managing triggers
  • Managing emotions

You can help reduce the likelihood of a bipolar episode.

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