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Bipolar Disorder Health Center

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Children and Teens With Bipolar Disorder

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How Can I Help my Bipolar Child?

As the parent of a child with bipolar disorder, there's a lot you can do to keep your child well. Here are some suggestions.

  • Follow the medication schedule. You absolutely must make sure that your child gets the medication he or she needs for bipolar disorder. Use timers, pillboxes, notes, or whatever it takes for you to remember. If your child needs medication at school, talk to his or her teacher or school nurse -- schools may not allow students to take medication on their own.
  • Monitor side effects. Most drugs used for bipolar disorder were originally tested in adults, and only a few have been well-studied in children and adolescents. Children do seem to be more prone to side effects from some of these drugs, such as weight gain and changes in blood sugar and cholesterol caused by some atypical antipsychotics. Ask your child's health care provider what symptoms to watch for. The FDA has issued a warning that using some types of antidepressants may increase the risk of suicide in children.
  • Talk to your child's teachers. In some cases, a child with bipolar disorder may need special allowances at school. He or she may need extra breaks or less homework during difficult times. So work out an agreement with your child's teachers or the school principal. In some cases, you may need to take your child out of school for a while, at least until his or her bipolar symptoms stabilize.
  • Keep a routine. Children with bipolar disorder can really benefit from a daily schedule. Help them get up, eat meals, exercise, and go to bed at roughly the same times each day. Do what you can to reduce stress in the household.
  • Consider family therapy. Having a child with bipolar disorder can be disruptive to the whole family. It can put extra stress on your marriage. Your other children may not understand what's wrong with their sibling, or they may be resentful of all the attention he or she is getting. Going to family therapy can help you all recognize and deal with these issues.
  • Take suicidal threats seriously. No parent wants to think about their children hurting themselves. But unfortunately, it can happen, even with young children. So if your child begins to express a desire to die, or engages in life-threatening behavior, don't ignore it. Remove any weapons or dangerous drugs from the house. And get help right away.

Teenagers With Bipolar Disorder

In older teenagers, the symptoms and treatment of bipolar disorder are much more similar to those seen in adults. But having a teenager with this condition presents a lot of distinct problems.

As they get older, teenagers might be resentful if they feel that you're imposing treatment on them. So let them into the conversation. Talk frankly -- along with your child's doctor or therapist -- about treatment options. Try not to develop an adversarial relationship with your child over his or her treatment or medication.

As with adults, it's key that teenagers with bipolar disorder avoid alcohol and drugs, which can interact with medications or bring on or worsen mood episodes. The risks of developing a substance abuse problem are much higher in teens with bipolar disorder than in their peers. It's also important to maintain regular routines around sleep and wake times, and to develop effective coping strategies for managing stress and distress.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on July 31, 2014
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