Children

18 Tips for Raising a Child with Bipolar Disorder

G.J. Gregory Oct 23rd, 2012 (updated Aug 20th, 2015)
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My wife and I have 5 kids, including a son who’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When it comes to parenting, the one sure thing I’ve learned is that parenting is a challenge, and we all make mistakes (and the kids take great delight in pointing out those mistakes). When you add a child with bipolar disorder into the mix, the challenge becomes a powder keg. It's not just the parents and the bipolar child who’re affected-the entire family feels the pressure and the pain. Here's a list of "rules" that have worked for my wife and I as we’ve raised our family.

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Treat each child individually
Treat each child individually

Whether it's a report card, accomplishments or goals, look at them individually. Praise publicly, scold privately. Don't compare achievements, but celebrate them. Embrace uniqueness, but don't label one child as your bipolar child, one as your scholar, one as your athlete.

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Expose them to, and encourage diverse interests
Expose them to, and encourage diverse interests

Your bipolar child will tend to obsess on certain activities, so try to make it a healthy one. Open the door to sports, music, reading, scouting, etc. Some activities stick, and some fall away. Don’t force activities on them. Their activities will be an effort financially and time-wise to you, but try to make it work.

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Encourage spirituality
Encourage spirituality

Spirituality is a common outlet for bipolar disorder. Our family prays daily, for each other and for others needing prayers. 

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Encourage giving
Encourage giving

For several years we have had “Goodwill Christmas” where the kids have a five dollar limit and buy each other second hand gifts. This forces a lot of thought into a gift, and these have been some of our most memorable exchanges.

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Teach responsibility
Teach responsibility

A job can provide purpose and self-esteem in children. They should have jobs around your house, and they can help in the care of each other. If making a job list for a bipolar child, keep in mind that getting from point A to point B can be overwhelming. So on your list, make small individual tasks that lead from A to B.

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Never tolerate unkind actions
Never tolerate unkind actions

In our house, we never tolerated our kids being unkind to anyone or each other. We told them we could excuse many behaviors, but never being cruel to someone else.

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Have fun together
Have fun together

The stresses of raising a bipolar child are difficult on the entire family.  Embrace humor, and encourage laughter. While we don’t make fun of each other, we all laugh at ourselves from time to time.

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If trouble arises, don't hesitate to help
If trouble arises, don't hesitate to help

For those with bipolar disorder, trouble will come, it’s inevitable. They need to feel they can call you at any time, no matter what their condition. Siblings should be encouraged to take the same steps towards each other. You know you’ve done something right when your kids are as willing to help each other as you are to help your kids.

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Open communication is a must
Open communication is a must

Talk about everything: feelings, punishments, jobs, each other, etc. Be careful about covering anything up. When a close relative came out of the closet, we spent weeks discussing it.  Each child had their own questions, concerns, and input. It was all discussed, and each child emerged as a caring and accepting relative.

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Value your child's opinions
Value your child's opinions

You can learn so much from them. Listen to them completely, let them know their feelings and opinions are valid and important.

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Go overboard for a good cause
Go overboard for a good cause

Our bipolar son was a huge White Sox fan and a struggling student. As a reward for a perfect final report card and some very hard work, we drove for hours to a game in Chicago. We have transported our kids all over the region in less-than-dependable cars for track meets, music festivals, drama tryouts, music lessons and many more things.

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Love your spouse openly
Love your spouse openly

Don’t put them down in front of your kids. Tell your kids the good traits of your spouse, and how you see those traits in them. 

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Encourage education and hard work without focusing on career or money
Encourage education and hard work without focusing on career or money

Our bipolar son holds himself to an impossibly high standard, as he wants us and others to be proud of him. I tell him I want nothing more for him than a life of happiness. I don’t care if he works, has nothing, or becomes a millionaire. If he’s happy, we’ve succeeded.

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Volunteer for organizations where your kids are involved
Volunteer for organizations where your kids are involved

School, church, sports, scouts, and so forth. You can see how your children get along with others, and assess their assets as well as their shortcomings.

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Form relationships with their teachers
Form relationships with their teachers

But remember that while their input is valuable, it’s not the end-all.

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Be your child's biggest advocate
Be your child's biggest advocate

Become your child’s biggest advocate, and fight for an answer, even for those answers that don’t come easily. They will thank you later. 

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Be affectionate
Be affectionate

Never withhold love as a punishment. This goes hand-in-hand with helping them feel you are always there to support them no matter what they are going through. 

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Remember it's not all work
Remember it's not all work

Have fun with your children. Don’t consider parenting as a job-it is hard work, but these can be your most enjoyable times.