Family gather ’round. I’d like tell you a few things about me. It’s different raising me than other children, I know. The very first thing I want you to hear? I love you. No matter what I may ever say or do, I love you.
I don’t imagine that any parent is happy to hear their child has Bipolar. Even if they can put societies stigmas on mental health aside, it’s still a lot to accept. If they know much about BP than they know there is going to be a rough journey ahead. If they know nothing of BP, it may be even more intimidating because it’s an ‘unknown’.
Having been the child with BP, and having been raised by parents who didn’t know much about it, I would like to offer some insight.
First off, you need to know that your child didn’t choose this. BP is an illness that needs to be reacted to the same way you would react to any chronic illness. Your child didn’t give themselves this; they didn’t ‘contract’ it. Acknowledge that this is just as hard for your child to accept as you, if not harder.
You won’t be able to help your child very well if you are not in a good place yourself. It is crucial for a parent of a BP child to take care of themselves. If you don’t, it is very easy for you to become burnt out, making things even harder. Your child will need a lot from you, but you can’t forget yourself.
It would be extremely beneficial to you to reach out to other parents who are rasing a BP child. Not, take note, someone to bash your child with. Talking negatively about your child to another parent is never something to be encouraged. You never know when or how your words might come full circle back to your child creating an even bigger separation between you and them.
Reaching out for support is important for several reasons. Another parent may be able to help you understand the illness. They may be able to offer you tips and advice on handling your child’s episodes, among many other things. They may even offer you much needed emotional support in times of need. They may be someone you can entrust your child to when you need to get away for a break. They will be better able to understand your child than most, leaving you with peace of mind.
Research. I cannot stress this enough. The more you know and understand your child’s illness the better suited you will be to help them. Knowledge is power. Read up on BP, there is plenty of information available on the topic. Don’t only read the ‘medical’ sites on it though. Read personal BP stories from people who live with it. These stories may help you learn more specific things to look for in your child to gauge episodes, as well as explain coping skills that other BP’s have had success with.
Medication and counseling can be very effective tools in coping with BP. However, again, I cannot stress enough the research these things need! Medication in particular is something to be approached with much caution. Side effects from medication can be devastating to your child. Some medications may make your child’s symptoms much worse. However some medications may help drastically. One thing about medication is certain: it will take many attempts of trial and error to find a correct combination and amount of medicine. Don’t lose hope if it seems that medicine doesn’t seem to be working. It takes time and patience. Remember, there is no ‘magic pill’. No pill is going to take away this illness; no pill is going to give you a perfect child. But medication may drastically help your child and ease or minimize episodes.
Counseling is an extremely effective tool. However, odds are that your child will be more than resistant to it. It is crucial to learn about the counselor you will be using before sending your child to meet with them. They need to be supportive, sensitive, and trustworthy. It is very helpful for you and your child to attend some counseling sessions together. Counselors can be great mediators and sources of information for both of you.
Listen to your child’s reports of their meetings with their counselor. They will likely be angry and resist sessions at first, but things should improve over time. If your child is consistently angry and upset with their counsolor and their sessions, perhaps a change in consoler should be considered.
Remember, a counselor does not have to be a paid professional, especially if you don’t have insurance, professional counselors can be very expensive. If you can’t find or afford a professional consoler, a mentor may be a better option for you. A mentor can be any adult individual that both you and your child trust and have relationship with. They should have similar values and beliefs as your family. They should be someone who you trust completely to be influencing your child. They also need to be someone your child can relate to and open up too. If they have a basic knowledge, or at least a willingness to learn, about BP that is terrific. But if they don’t, they can still serve as a stable emotional support for your child. It is very helpful to have an extra set of ears for your child. They may be more willing to open up to a person other than their parent, but it is better for them to do this with a trusted adult as opposed to say a close, younger friend.
Handling your child’s episodes will be very trying to say the least. Help them to understand their episodes, the differences, and characteristics of them. When they are depressed, remind them of coping skills such as: exercise, artwork, journaling, or taking a shower or bath. When they are manic: try to channel their energy and excentrics into affordable, realistic, and productive projects. Having a bake sale, cleaning out and rearranging their room, decorating their room or the yard, gardening, joining a group or club, or taking on small short odd jobs can be effective ways at helping your child through mania. If it’s possible, do these things with your child when they are episodic. Your support and encouragement will be beyond helpful to them, and it will help you to connect.
Boundaries are even more important with BP children. Don’t, please don’t, lock your child away from the world. Encourage them to have friendships, to do things, to participate in life. A secluded BP becomes an anxious and depressed BP. You need to acknowledge your child’s emotions and illness and do your best to be understanding and forgiving. However, you need to set very clear, distinct boundaries. Sit down with your child and discuss boundaries when necessary. Try your best to compromise with them and meet in the middle on disagreeable subjects. This will make boundaries clear and easier for them to respect.
A conversation about boundaries can look like this:
Screaming into your pillow, taking a break from the world in your room or playhouse, or writing angry letters and then destroying them are very acceptable ways to express angry emotions. Screaming at parents or siblings, causing physical pain like hitting or punching, destroying others’ property, or insulting others are unacceptable behaviors. Doing things with friends is ok, as long as you are checking in and respecting family rules. Running away, partying, or breaking family values is not ok.
Try to keep open communication with your child. Try to relate to them. Don’t make their illness scary. Talk openly about it with them, and be genuine. Give them opportunity to talk to you, make time for them. Unless it is absolutely necessary, never punish your child for being honest. If punishment must happen, be as gentle as is reasonable.
Be patient, reach out for support, take care of yourself, research your options, learn about BP, be involved with your child and their episodes, communicate as much as possible with your child, and love them unconditionally.
BP doesn’t have to rule your life, your family, or your child’s life. Be a team! Together you can raise your BP child to become a successful, respectable, wonderful adult! You are not alone, and you can succeed!