My son, Tyler was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 12. He is 15 now. Over the past three years I have noticed mistakes I have made as a parent of a child with bipolar disorder. These are the biggest:

  • INCONSISTENCY IN DISCIPLINEEvery confrontation with Tyler was so emotionally draining, that after awhile it just became easier to let things go, and 'pick my fights.' However, by not being consistent in disciplining him, this led to even more confrontations, testing of my patience, and 'pushing the envelope'—even more times of him testing the boundaries of discipline. I saw this as a power struggle, while he saw this as my being too harsh a disciplinarian. I think had I let him had more of a say in the 'rules,' as well as the consequences of breaking the rules, there would have been more consistency, and he would have felt things were more fair to him.
  • USING BIPOLAR AS AN EXCUSEToo many times I used bipolar as an excuse for tolerating unacceptable behavior. I should have taken the time to explain to Tyler the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and good and bad choices. Again, as mentioned above, I should have given him the opportunity to be a part of making the rules and consequences of breaking those rules. Also, if we as parents use bipolar as an excuse, this can lead to resentment from other children in the family, if they see their sibling 'getting away with things' just because they have bipolar, while the other children are being disciplined for the same behavior.
  • POOR COMMUNICATIONChildren can be a little manipulative sometimes, bipolar or not, so when I saw this trait in Tyler, I disciplined him for it and, of course, did not let him 'get his way.' I held him accountable for this behavior, not realizing that this was, in fact, one example of my own poor communication. I did not outline clearly enough my expectations of him, yet expected him to make good choices and practice good behavior. Yet how could he be expected to do something he had not been taught? So I had unreasonable expectations of him, when it was really my fault for my own poor communication. I should have been more explicit and outlined clearly what was expected of him and what were undesirable behaviors, such as manipulation.
  • THE MEDICATION BATTLEAlthough this seems like such a small thing, it is so important. I would ask my son if he had taken his medication, and although sometimes he would say he had, most often I would hear, 'I will, later,' and if I forgot to remind him 'later,' chances were he wouldn’t take it. This became a big issue. I would judge, by his behavior, that he had not taken his medication, but it became increasingly harder to trust my judgment, as he was at the age (13-14) when hormones were raging, and I could not distinguish between bipolar and normal adolescent behavior. He would deny being in an episode, and claim I was not trusting him to be responsible enough to take his own medication. It was a lose/lose proposition. I wanted to trust him, yet I knew from the nature of the disorder, and by having it myself, that it is too easy to become noncompliant with your medication unless you are held accountable for taking it. I understood how important it was for him to feel 'normal,' and how much he hated taking the medication, and I didn’t want to have to watch him take it, as there was always a confrontation about it. But at least a confrontation was better than an episode, and there was a time when I had to make sure he took it, or else he would forget. However you have to do it, dissolve it in their food, serve it with breakfast or with their nighttime snack, watch or not watch, confrontation or not, you must make sure your child takes their medication.
  • MONITORING FRIENDSHIPSThis is an important point, whether your child is bipolar or not. But like the taking of medication, falls under the category of them wanting to be normal and being trusted. Their friends are more important to them than we are. And, confessing this myself, there were times I would sigh in relief when Tyler left for school, thinking that at least I would get a break for a few hours from the pressures that raising a bipolar child can bring. Unfortunately, by not overseeing our child’s choice in friends, their friends can become a negative influence and, before we turn around, we are faced with a greater challenge than just the bipolar disorder. On the other hand, if we come down too hard on their choice of friends, they will seek those friends all the more. As hard as it is, we must seek a balance between monitoring our child’s choice of friends while at the same time trusting them to make good choices when it comes to friendships.
  • NOTE FROM TYLER: REGARDING YOUR CHILD’S FRIENDSHIPS:It is true that, as a parent, you need to keep an eye on the people with whom your child chooses to become friends. If you see that they are hanging around people who seem suspicious to you, do not tell them directly. If you tell your child directly not to be friends or not to hang around with this particular person, it makes them want to be around them even more. They believe that, if the person is interesting enough to be considered and banned by the parent, they must be pretty cool. Banning a friend will do more bad than good. Parents need to trust their child’s judgment. Children make mistakes at times, but not all the time, especially when it comes to whom they choose to be around. As an alternative to banning a friend, just sit down and talk with your child. Do not just talk to them and disregard what you have told them, share from personal experiences if possible. Tell them how you trust them and you know they can judge for themselves, but that you want them to know, from your experience if possible, what to look out for, just as a precaution. If you feel that it is needed, give your child the 'say no to drugs' talk, but tell it to them in a way that they will not feel it is artificial and being read from a pamphlet. Finally, always remember that, though the horizon sometimes becomes murky, there is always a light in the distance.