Therapy Advice : How to Parent Bipolar Children
How to Discipline Your Bipolar Child
Disciplining a child with bipolar disorder can be a challenge. Your child’s mood swings might make it hard for you to come up with a way to discipline him or her without making the mood swings worse. However, practicing consistent and clear discipline strategies and creating a positive environment for your child can help them to avoid difficult behavior. Be empathetic to your child and help them navigate their difficult emotions effectively. Take care of yourself, too, as parenting is never easy and you may want some support.
Forming Discipline Strategies
Set clear rules and limits.You might need to spell things out more for your child with bipolar disorder than other children. For your child to succeed, it’s important to make rules clear and understandable. Don't assume your child knows how to behave well; teach them what you expect from their behavior and also what will happen if they break a rule.
- For example, say, “When you don’t follow directions the first time, you will get a timeout.”
- Write down the house rules and their consequences when broken. Put this somewhere your child can reference easily.
- Be realistic when creating your rules and limits, and consider your child's struggles. Try not to set rules that your child most likely can't meet. Instead, focus on what's most important.
- Ask your child to take part in setting the rules and the consequences.
- Your rules and consequences should also be consistent among all siblings.
Give consistent consequences.Consistency is key when it comes to parenting a bipolar child. If your child breaks a rule, they should know that there will be a consequence. When disciplining your child, be consistent in giving fair consequences. Don’t bend or give in to your child’s whining, tears, or tantrums. Instead, be matter-of-fact and give the consequence.
- Make sure that you focus on criticizing the action, not the child. Don't tell the child that he or she is bad, only that the action is.
- For example, say, “Throwing toys is wrong. When you throw toys, you get a timeout. Those are the rules.”
- If your child throws a fit, validate how they feel, but still give the consequence. Say, “I can tell you’re upset and sad. It doesn’t feel good to get a consequence, but this is what happens when you behave this way.”
Redirect your child’s behavior.If your child is misbehaving, redirect their attention to something else. Maybe they’re starting to melt down or have problems. Offer a positive replacement activity to give them a chance to reset.
- For example, if your child is starting to act up, say, “Let’s go for a walk outside and get some fresh air. Would you get the dog’s leash, please?”
Create structure through using a daily schedule.Children with bipolar disorder need structure and the ability to anticipate events and situations. Create a schedule for your child so that they can have some structure in their day. Maintain a simple yet predictable schedule for weekdays and weekends.
- Children who struggle primarily with depression may have difficulty sleeping. Have a consistent sleep schedule for your child so that they go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on the weekends.
Anticipate potential problems.Part of discipline is knowing how to anticipate problem behaviors and setting your child up to succeed. If your child struggles to transition with activities or takes a while to adjust to changes, let them know if there will be changes to their daily schedule. Being able to cope with changes will help them to feel in control and less stressed, which can help to decrease stress and mood swings.
- For example, if your child is going to the dentist, let them know ahead of time. Say, “Tomorrow I’m going to pick you up at school before lunch and we’ll go to the dentist together. You’ll be asked to open your mouth so that the dentist can look at your teeth.”
Give your child positive reinforcement.The flip side of disciplining your child for bad behavior is making sure that you reinforce good behavior. Praise the things that your child does well. Enforce the positive behaviors you want to keep seeing.
- You can reinforce good behavior with verbal praise and physical affection. Say, “Great job listening and following through on what I asked you to do!”
- You can also offer rewards, such as time playing a game they love or participating in a fun activity together.
Handling Their Difficult Emotions
Help your child manage their symptoms.Make it as easy as possible for your child to manage their bipolar symptoms. This means listening to their needs, monitoring how they respond to their medication, and bringing up any questions and concerns with their psychiatrist, therapist, and/or pediatrician. Help them manage their medications by giving them a daily pill manager or another way to track their medications.
- If your child is having a difficult time, ask them gently, “Are you having some trouble managing your bipolar right now? What can we do to help you?”
Teach your child that they are responsible for their actions.All emotions are valid, but all behaviors are not. Encourage your child to express their emotions and acknowledge their mood swings. Remind your child that he is not to blame for his mood swings, but that he is responsible for how he acts and treats other people.
- For example, it’s okay to feel moody or upset. However, it’s not okay to yell at siblings or parents when children feel this way.
Help them acknowledge their emotions.A bipolar child should learn to label and understand their emotions. Model your ability to handle your emotions by speaking kindly with your child and listening to what they have to say. Acknowledge their emotions, yet also point out where their behaviors were out of line.
- For example, say, “It’s okay to feel frustrated, I feel frustrated sometimes, too. But it’s not okay to throw your toys.”
Brainstorm behavior alternatives for when your child’s upset.Once you’ve helped your child label and understand their emotions, give them some alternatives to help them feel calm. For example, if your child is angry, talk about ways to work through the emotion of anger that won’t hurt anybody. They can take a personal time-out, hit a pillow, run around in the backyard, or do a different activity.
- For example, if your child hits another child because they felt angry, say, “What are some other ways you can feel angry and not hurt somebody?” Allow them to brainstorm, and give them some ideas, too.
Teach your child healthy coping.If your child tends to melt down or struggle with how to handle their emotions, help them find coping strategies for when they feel overwhelmed. Especially if your child experiences strong emotions often, provide options for them to try to manage them. For example, tell your child to turn on some calm music, take five deep breaths, write in a journal, or jump on a trampoline.
- Give your child some options and let them choose which one feels best. Then, talk about how they feel after and if they need more time.
Stay calm and in control.Your bipolar child needs guidance, especially when it comes to managing emotions. While you might sometimes feel like yelling or getting angry, try to stay calm. Handling situations calmly will help your child learn to remain calm and not overreact to stressors or things that anger them.
- If you feel angry or like you may lose your temper, stop and take a few deep breaths. This will allow your mind and body to calm down and approach your child.
- You may need to walk away for a few moments while you calm down.
Getting Outside Support
Work with a therapist.Managing a child with bipolar disorder can be difficult and you may not know how to parent them at all times. If you feel like you’re at a loss or could benefit from some help, try seeing a therapist. Go to a child therapist so that your child can learn skills. Often, therapists will work with the parents as well and give you some tips and strategies to try.
- Find a child therapist by calling your local mental health clinic or contacting your insurance provider. You can also get a recommendation from a friend or your child’s pediatrician.
Attend parenting classes.Depending on your child’s age, there’s likely a parenting class that can help. While most parenting classes are not geared toward parents of children who have bipolar disorder, you can learn some valuable information and meet other parents who might be struggling to discipline their children as well.
- Look for parenting classes at your community center or local mental health clinic. You might even be able to take a class online.
- You can also ask your mental health care provider or pediatrician for books or other resources for parents of bipolar children.
QuestionShould the result of bad behavior be to take away numerous things?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTry verbal warnings and natural consequences (e.g. if the child makes a mess, the child cleans it up). Clearly explain the difference between good and bad behavior in a certain situation, and why it matters. If you want to take things away, keep it fairly small and give it back after a little while.Thanks!
QuestionWhat do I do when the behavior turns physical on the rug during circle time?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerGive your child some time to cool off. Take them away from the circle and talk to them about their behavior.Thanks!
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