The Highs and Lows of Parenting a Child With Bipolar Disorder

Child With Bipolar Disorder

There are countless movies that follow a similar plot line: A hero battles some threat facing citizens and barely escapes with his life. As the hero narrowly misses gunshots, fires, and exploding cars, audience members are left clutching their seats. Each tick of the clock brings increased tension and each conflict raises more questions than it does answers. The result is a suspenseful two hours of entertainment.

A day in the life of many children with bipolar disorder and their families is no less suspenseful: fueled by crises, threats, and cliffhangers. Unlike on the big screen, however, there is no director yelling “Cut” or opportunity to take a lunch break. Rather, it is an intense cycling through emotions and turmoil, highs and lows, as both the child or teen struggles alongside their family. The cycling can be especially intense when the family hasn’t sought bipolar disorder treatment.

“I’m bipolar, but I’m not crazy, and I never was. I’m stark raving sane.” – Emilie Autumn

Bipolar Disorder Statistics

Approximately one-third of the 3.4 million children and adolescents suffering from depression in the United States may actually be experiencing the onset of bipolar disorder, otherwise known as cyclothymia. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly one percent of teens age 14 to 18 meets the criteria for bipolar disorder. A noteworthy 20 percent of young adults with major depression develop bipolar disorder within five years of the onset of depression.

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens

Many parents with children who have bipolar disorder wake in the morning with churning stomachs and a sense of dread. This feeling is heightened when their child must be somewhere in a hurry. After all, rousing a person with bipolar disorder can be a tumultuous experience in itself. Sleep inertia, which a great number of people with bipolar experience, makes waking extremely difficult. This symptom on its own is enough for many families to seek bipolar disorder treatment. Coupled with the irritability, severe depression , exaggerated elation, risky behavior and suicidal thoughts, treatment is often sought after.

There are two primary methods for treating bipolar disorder: medications and psychotherapy, including bipolar disorder treatment centers. Other, less popular options, include Electroconvulsive Therapy, supplements and sleep medications.

How Parents Can Help

As a parent to a child or teen with bipolar disorder, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless. Fortunately, there are several tools and strategies available to help you.


Parenting a child who doesn’t fit the norm is a daunting task. For these parents, it’s more important than ever to practice self-care. Doing so allows you to be a more patient, efficient parent and also models healthy behavior to your child. Engage in activities you enjoy, whether than be leisurely baths, exercise, crafting, wine tasting or movie watching.

Mood Chart

Maintaining a daily chart of your child’s mood, energy, sleep cycles, treatments, and concerns can be helpful to you as the parent and to the others in your child’s care team. It’s important to be consistent and note the time of day. Many children experience different symptoms at regular intervals. Having this information handy can help regulate treatment for bipolar disorder.

Maintain consistency

Children with bipolar disorder benefit from consistent routines. Avoid long periods of downtime, although it’s important to build in time for relaxation during particularly challenging times of the day.

Lessen family conflict

Conflict of any sort can destabilize the moods of both children and adults with bipolar disorder. Carefully choose battles before enforcing a limit. Model appropriate de-escalation techniques, including time-outs, and conflict resolution. Family therapy can be especially helpful here.

Offer continued support

Reassure your child (and to a certain extent yourself) that things can be positive. Look for the highlights of every day and be sure to mention them aloud. Make sure your child knows you will always be there as a loving support to him or her, even in the thick of tension.

Seek outside help

There are few situations where the old adage, “It takes a village” is more applicable. Rely on others for emotional and physical help. Seek bipolar disorder treatment options that help the whole family.

While parenting a child with bipolar disorder is challenging, it isn’t insurmountable. There are many beautiful moments worth capturing.

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