How Childhood Bipolar Develops
Several factors are thought to contribute to the development of bipolar disorder in children, and may include:
- Genetics – If a child or teen has a parent and/or sibling with the disorder, they are more likely to get the condition in comparison to other children/teens.
- Abnormal brain function – This can also include abnormal brain structure.
- Anxiety disorders – Bipolar disorder is more common in children who suffer from various anxiety disorders.
Coping With Childhood Bipolar Disorder
The quick and thorough action is the key to gaining control over the potentially devastating effects of pediatric bipolar disorder.
Begin with basic safety measures, then look to long-term approaches to help manage the symptoms:
- Child-proof your home – Regardless of age, you need to take steps to protect your household, especially if your child has problems with aggression. Lock up sharp objects, medications, and anything else that could cause trouble for your family.
- Keep good notes – It’s important to track your child’s behavior for your doctor, but also for your benefit. The more patterns you can spot, the more efficiently you can react to manic or depressive episodes. Be as detailed as possible, citing your child’s moods, sleeping patterns, medications, and anything else that seems noteworthy.
Coping With Childhood Bipolar Disorder
- Find a doctor – Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health issue and could require the help of different professionals. Ask your pediatrician to recommend a pediatric neurologist, child psychiatrist, or psychotherapist. You may want to travel to a prominent clinic or hospital to consult an expert for an initial evaluation, then find a local doctor for ongoing medical management.
- Monitor red flags – Know when to stop watching and take action. If your child speaks of dying or suicide, makes destructive/ violent rages or engages in hazardous behaviors, seek treatment immediately. Consult with your pediatrician, area mental health agency or hospital for steps to take.
At present, there is no known cure for this condition. However, children are treated similarly as adults.
Treatments help control bipolar symptoms and may include:
- Medications – Just like adults, children can respond to medications for bipolar disorder differently. Some may require more than one medication at a time as a result of their symptoms being very complex. Different types of drugs may have to be administered to determine which one works best; it is imperative that children are always given the smallest dosages of medications as possible. Be on the lookout for and report any side effects immediately. Halting any bipolar drugs can be extremely dangerous — doing so may make bipolar symptoms more severe.
- Therapy – Different kinds of "talk" therapy can be very beneficial. Therapy can assist children in effectively changing their behaviors, as well as successfully managing their daily routines. It can also help bipolar children and teenagers get along better with their friends and family members.
Tips for Parenting a Bipolar Child
Teach and Practice Relaxation
Your child will experience irritability, quickly changing moods, impulsivity, poor judgment and defiance. Relaxation techniques can improve all of these symptoms.
Your child needs you to remind her how, where, and when to use the techniques. There are many methods available, so do research, ask your mental health providers as many questions as possible, and experiment to find the best fit. Include music, lighting, water and sounds to assist in relaxation.
As a parent, you are the model for many skills in the home — communication included. Use assertive communication as much as possible.
Use "I" statements to discuss your needs and feelings. It is very tempting to match the communication style of the person you are speaking to, but you are the parent, so set the example.
Remember, listening is as important as talking; ask questions and use good non-verbal listening skills like making eye contact and nodding. Your child will notice and learn from you.
Advocate at School
Your child will likely need modifications to thrive at school. Seek out school counselors, psychologists, and principals, and ask what services are available for your child to improve their learning experience.
Get the plan in writing, so it is clear and concrete. Be sure to involve your child — many times; they'll be the ideal source of the best ideas to improve their time in school.
Focusing too much on weaknesses will be frustrating to you and your child. All children need an emotional outlet — find and develop their gifts.
Is your child interested in playing an instrument, painting, dancing or playing a sport? These can be great ways to transition their differences into gifts. Plant the seeds today that will grow into the coping skills of tomorrow.
Not only is bipolar disorder in children difficult to diagnose, but it is also often difficult to manage. Research shows that children and adolescents typically experience more severe symptoms and disease progression than adults, in the form of longer symptomatic episodes and more frequent mood changes (cycling).
An effective treatment plan will involve some changes for the whole family, so be flexible as treatment moves along, but persistent with medication, therapy, sleep regulation and emotional support.
Many parents of bipolar children report that with focus and attention to these crucial aspects, their children can manage their symptoms as they grow up, and even experience long remissions.
The bottom line – children with mental illness, require treatment, regardless of their diagnosis. It is important for parents to be there each step of the way with their children.