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Bipolar Symptoms in Children: Signs of Bipolar Disorder and Responding to Bipolar Behavior

Parents are often terrified by the notion their child suffers from bipolar disorder and information can be difficult to find.  Bipolar disorder is a chronic brain disorder.

Bipolar Symptoms in Children

Signs of bipolar disorder may include bouts of extreme and impairing changes in mood, energy, thinking, and behavior. According to research, cases of bipolar disorder have been found in every age group studied, including preschoolers.

Recognizing Signs of Bipolar Disorder

In order to understand the behavior of children diagnosed with pediatric-onset bipolar disorder, it is important to understand stress and mood and how it manifests in signs of bipolar behavior. In response to a stimulus, our body secretes hormones activating the stress response that signals us to feel (happy, sad, afraid, surprised, angry) and behave (smile, cry, run away, jump, fight). Once the stimulus has passed or changed, our body can usually return to a state of rest. Bipolar symptoms in children may be recognized when they have difficulty returning their body to this state of rest after exposure to stimulus, and as a result often suffer from debilitating distress.

Responding to Bipolar Behavior

Parenting a child with bipolar disorder involves understanding and accommodating this state of distress. Of all bipolar symptoms in children, this needs to be the primary issue gauged by the parent. Here are some common parenting issues and suggested responses:

  1. You worry that you are not ‘parenting right.’
    Instead, remember that although parenting skills can have a protective effect on a child with bipolar behavior, there is no cure for bipolar disorder.
  2. You feel your own temper rising.
    Avoid emotional responses that escalate the situation. With younger children, learn ‘safe but firm’ restraints to avoid injury.
  3. You respond critically to your child for things out of her control: “This wouldn’t have happened if you had only stopped to think!”
    Don’t punish biology. Take time away from your child and develop natural logical consequences for actions committed as a result of bipolar behavior. Enforce them consistently.
  4. You try to do it alone.
    Bipolar symptoms in children is challenging for the best parents. Ask for help.

Resources: The Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation at www.bpkids.org, and http://www.bipolarchild.com

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