There is ongoing controversy about whether bipolar should be diagnosed in children. In an effort to address the concern of children being diagnosed and treated for bipolar, a new disorder called disruptive mood dysregulation disorder may be better suited to meet the needs of those children who experience persistent irritability and regular extreme uncontrollable behavior. This disorder is for children who meet the criteria – up to age 12. More information can be found on on our disruptive mood dysregularion disorder page.
For those who agree that bipolar in children is a diagnosable disorder, further theories of thought on how bipolar presents in children exist. The absolutely best course of action to take if you suspect that your child might have a bipolar diagnosis is to find a child psychiatrist or a mental health provider who specializes in treating bipolar in children. It is a serious diagnosis that demands a through evaluation. The doctor or mental health professional should be experienced in diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder. In addition, there are overlapping symptoms and conditions that need to be closely considered to reach accurate diagnoses of mental disorder(s).
It is common in children with bipolar to show anger, irritability, and have moods that change very quickly. Children’s bipolar episodes tend to be much shorter than what is seen in adults. The child bipolar episode may last only a few hours or even a few days. Some further symptoms may include:
- Severe separation anxiety
- A hard time dealing with transitions and new situations
- Temper tantrums
- Worsening disruptive behavior, extreme moodiness
- Sleep problems
- Aggressive episodes followed by grief and remorse
- Declining academic progress
- Increased impulsivity
- Decreased concentration and ability to handle frustration
- Extreme emotional swings from happiness to anger
- Bedwetting and day time accidents beyond the normal age
- Times of consistent sleep and slow thinking and then times of extreme energy
Treatment and tips
Children with bipolar seem to have mood shifts that occur out of nowhere. This can be very difficult for parents to manage and to know how to make the best decisions to help the child and to support the entire family unit.
1. Consult with your child’s doctor and link up with a mental health professional that will provide your child with individual counseling along with family counseling to help support and plan for all those involved. Skills learned here can transfer in all other settings of your child’s day with collaboration between you, the mental health professional, and other caregivers (school staff, babysitters, etc…).
Keep in mind that children commonly have the greatest difficulty with behavior symptoms at home. This is due to the child’s moods being harder to control when they feel tired or stressed by daily responsibilities such as homework or chores. In addition, they generally feel more comfortable to display emotions such as anger, anxiety, or frustration while in the comfort of their own home. Working with a supportive team of professionals will help to effectively manage these difficult times.
2. Depending on the age of your child and the presenting symptoms, medications may be a consideration. Medications will only be an option if you and your child’s doctor agree. Medications for bipolar can be a wonderful help in easing symptoms. Medications can also be used for co-existing diagnoses.
It is not uncommon for an individual to be diagnosed with additional disorders due to the overlap of symptoms found in mental illness. Possible diagnoses given instead of bipolar or in conjunction with bipolar include: ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depressive disorders, schizophrenia, and learning disabilities.
3. Gain an understanding of this disorder through research, cooperation with a mental health professional, and/or through parenting support groups. Raising a child with bipolar presents with a variety of challenges and being able to prepare, plan, and execute consistent responses and interventions will be tremendously helpful for the whole family.
4. Plan for transition times by giving your child notice. For example, give a 5 minute warning before it is time to clean up or a 2 minute warning before leaving the house to run errands.
5. At all times (regardless of a diagnosis), listen to your child’s feelings and help them to express their thoughts and feelings by being patient. Encourage them to use their words to verbalize their feelings and needs. It can be extremely helpful to problem solve behaviors by working together to decide which behaviors are choices and which are a direct symptom of the diagnosis.
6. Helping your child succeed will not happen overnight. Each day, stick with your plan and the interventions listed here to support your child for the long-term.
Further strategies are within reach!
The Building Blocks of Positive Parenting is our exclusive book that contains a wealth of interventions for bipolar and other common childhood disorders and behavioral concerns.
You will also find that it is packed with guidance to help you achieve a solid and positive parenting foundation in your home!
The best part of this awesome book is that you don’t have to read the entire thing! You get to pick and choose what sections your family could benefit from the most. With all of the practical ideas, reproducible behavior systems, and time tested advice; it truly is the easiest to use resource manual available to parents today. ~Now that sounds like what parents can use as we juggle life’s many tasks!