The following is a post on one of the NAMI message boards. This post was made by the mother of an almost 7-year-old boy who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
I hope her post and my response help her and others. Any other suggestions are more than welcome. Please use the “Comments” section of this post. Thanks!
Here is her post:
My almost seven-year-old son just had a neuropsychological assessment. He was already diagnosed mood disorder nos, but the doctor said its bipolar. It was not a shock (my husband has bipolar, and also PTSD, AD/HD, delusional disorder, and borderline personality was just added to him this week). But still, its different when its your little boy:(
I know a fair bit about the diagnosis from taking care of my husband. Unfortunately, he did not get diagnosed until his early thirties, and he really can’t function at all. I know I can’t change the fact that my little boy has this illness (it was clear something was not right when he was talking about wanting to die before he was even five years old!), but any tips for parenting a child with a mental illness are much appreciated! all suggestions of things to try or what not to do are welcome. Thanks!
First, I want you to know something you may already know:
People survive bipolar disorder. Duh, right?
Okay here’s something:
People can thrive despite — and sometimes because they have — bipolar disorder.
People with bipolar face some challenges that the general population doesn’t; however, many in the general population face some challenges that most people with bipolar don’t face.
Don’t believe me?
Google this: “bipolar creativity”
You will find a plethora of articles on this subject — from some very reputable sources, such as Psych Central, The Huffington Post, National Institutes of Health, and Psychology Today.
So, while bipolar disorder can be — as one 60’s music star portrayed it — a frustrating mess, there are actually some benefits (believe it or not).
As for how to help your son…
First and foremost, for the majority of time and the majority of issues, my advice would be to parent him the way you would parent any child. Spend time with him — especially play time. Children really dig that. Even 15 minutes a day will do wonders for his self-confidence; it will also help your parent/child relationship.
Structure can be a challenge for these kids, so be a little lenient in this department. I’m not saying to have no structure whatsoever, though! 🙂 When I said a little lenient, I meant a “little”. Even though they need room to explore and play with their talents and abilities, they still need — as any child needs — an adult to structure their days, weeks, and months.
My final piece of advice is to be as involved as you can in his treatment — without being overinvolved, though. Especially at his age, he needs you to be involved. As he grows older — especially those teenage years — he will most likely need more autonomy.
You may consider starting a log. First, tell him you are starting the log and involve him in it. Ask him what sorts of things should be in the log. Also, offer your own suggestions.
Here are a couple of things you might include in your log:
Try rating his mood on a scale. Negative 5 = suicidal, 0 = stable, positive 5 = extremely manic. You might start out doing this daily, and then GRADUALLY (over the period of a few years) move it to weekly. Just a suggestion.
Scales are great, but so is an expressive account of how he is feeling. This could be done less frequently than the scale; however, I would do it at least 2-3 times a week. And, it could be fun and cathartic to him. He could spend as much or as little time as he wants writing, drawing, or playing music that describes how he is feeling.
The opportunities are virtually limitless. I would stick to just a couple or a few things to start. Later, you can add or subtract things as you and he see fit.
And, also let him know that it is important that his treatment team be able to view this log. If he is resistant to that idea, let him do the log without that for a while. Then, at a time when you think he would be receptive, approach him again with the idea of showing it to his treatment team.
This might actually be fun!
A few additional thoughts:
- Catching the illness early bodes well for your son.
- Keep a log of his medications. Writing down what he is taking every day isn’t necessary; however, keeping a list of what meds he is on, when he started them (and if applicable stopped them), and any missed doses can be helpful — especially when it comes to how your son reacts to different medications.
- Let his teachers know about your son’s disorder. This can help them understand and assist your son. Insist on confidentiality, though. By the way does your son have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)? In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, he has a right to this. And it is important. If your school district is resistant to this, locate a child advocate in your area. They know what to say and how to convince the schools to adhere to the law. If you home-school, you don’t have to worry about this.