I also did a post on Helping Your Schizophrenic Child. There is a lot of good information there that can also help if you have a Bipolar child. I suggest reading over it and seeing if any of the suggestions there can help you here as well.
This can be quite difficult. A lot of it depends on the child’s age, maturity level and exactly how much your child is able to understand. I would suggest the weather explanation that I used to explain to my children about my own Bipolar Diagnosis. You can find that here at Explaining Bipolar To Children. This is the best way that I know how to help a child understand how Bipolar actually works. There are also many books out there pertaining to this as well. DBSA offers a free, printable, pdf booklet on explaining to children about Bipolar as well. I actually just printed this booklet out and used it with my daughter and she was able to understand clearer about what she is going through
I must add here that although we are working on a Psychosis NOS diagnosis with her, she does have mood issues as well. Within time her current diagnosis may change to the same as mine….Bipolar Disorder and that is why I’m focusing on that topic with her. Bipolar can and does have psychosis, so it would not be surprising to any of us if her diagnosis were to be changed in the future.
The links I entered above are great starting points and can offer you loads of information in regards to how Bipolar works. But they don’t tell you how to answer those hard questions that are sure to follow after you explain to your child what illness he or she has.
Some questions you may be faced with:
“Will it ever go away?” You really have no definite answer here. Right now, that answer is no. But advances in medicine, science and technology may one day turn this answer into a yes. Explain here to your child how medication and therapy can help them to control and manage their symptoms, but right now there is no cure for it.
“Is it contagious? How did I get this?” No, it is absolutely not contagious, no one can catch Bipolar Disorder because someone sneezed on them. How to answer the second part of this question is easier than you think. A simple response, “Just as you got your blue eyes from Daddy, your nose from Nanny, you got the Bipolar from Mommy. It’s just one of those things that runs in families.”
“How will the medication help me?” Sounds simple to answer this, but it’s not. After explaining how the medication will help them with their moods, will help them sleep and in some cases help them to not hear or see those scary things anymore, you may end up with more questions. Questions about well….how? The how question is actually easier than you’d think. Just let them know that the medication will help the their brain work a little better so that it can help the rest of their body work better too. This seemed to pacify my daughter.
First and foremost before you do any answering of any questions, make sure your child knows and understands that their illness is NOT their fault and they did nothing to cause this to happen to them.
If the booklets above don’t help your child understand how Bipolar can make them feel, you are going to have to try to fill in the blanks. But they should do a pretty good job. The books are very easy for young children to understand. I imagine even my 5-year-old could understand what the book is trying to explain to them.
Ways to help your child cope:
- Make sure they understand that they are not alone. That there are other children suffering from the same disorder as they are. Share your own story with them if you feel comfortable. Gitty knowing Mommy has days like she has, has made it a bit easier for her to come and talk to me. She knows I understand. At the same time, I’ve become the person she takes her anger out on, probably because she knows I don’t take it personally. It’s not her……..it’s her illness.
- Encourage your children to talk to you and your spouse about how they are feeling. If you know what kind of feelings your child is having, the better you can help them cope with those feelings.
- Give your child a journal and tell him/her it is their own private space to write down how they feel or draw pictures about how they feel. This can be wonderful therapy for anyone. Sometimes just writing about their day can make them feel better.
- Make sure your child understands the importance of being honest with doctor’s. Their doctors’ can not help them if they don’t know how your child is feeling.
- Most importantly, make sure your child knows that if they feel like hurting themselves they must tell you or another trusted adult right away. That you won’t be angry with them and that this is a symptom of their illness and it needs medical attention. Stress this as much as possible without downplaying the importance of this.
Ways to help your child manage his/her illness:
- Help your child to chart her moods. If she’s old enough, after learning, she can do this on her own.
- Be in control of your child’s medication. I wouldn’t suggest allowing a Bipolar child to control their medication at all. It’s just too much of a risk to take in doing this.
- Teach your child coping mechanisms: walking away when she feels angry, writing in her journal, humming to herself, going to a quiet space when she feels agitated or angry, punching pillows instead of walls to release some of her aggression.
- Help your child set small, achievable goals and reward them accordingly.
- Let your child know there are still consequences for actions. This is hard for some parents’ to understand. How do you punish something that is not their fault, but that argument isn’t going to hold up when your child is an adult and punches a guy on the street and goes in front of a judge. There will still be consequences for his or her actions then, just as there should be now. Use this opportunity to teach your child a different way of handling the situation.
Bipolar children are and can be very successful. Help them understand this by pointing out famous people who have overcome their Bipolar Disorder and redirected their energies into something they love. Here’s a brief list you can use until you have time to find more on your own.
- Abraham Lincoln (President)
- Jim Carey (Actor)
- Marilyn Monroe (Actress)
- Vincent Van Gogh (Painter/Artist)
- Edgar Poe (Writer)
- Issac Newton (Scientist)
- Ludwig Van Beethoven (Musician)
- Mark Twain (Writer)
Help your child find their inner talent, their skill, the thing that they are passionate about. Then, provide them with the resources necessary so they may continue being passionate about whatever they chose. This may be a place of solace for them, a place for them to unwind, something to do to take their mind off of the illness they have to contend with every day of their lives. Encourage them, tell them how awesome of a job they are doing and last, but absolutely not least, SHOW THEM YOU LOVE THEM!
*I also suggest keeping a mood journal of your child yourself. This will give a different perspective from the way she observers herself. Writing down any behavior issues, outbursts or meltdowns will help the doctor see it from both sides. I would suggest right from the beginning compiling a folder with all your child’s information in it. Medical, Psychiatric, Insurance, notes you’ve taken, records from the doctor, even a daily or weekly journal of what’s been happening. You can bring this information with you to all doctor appointments and in the event a hospitalization is necessary.*
Websites Worth Visiting:
Until next time….