Even children without Bipolar Disorder often have moments when they have a hard time controlling their impulses, difficulty staying still, or dealing with frustration. Many times this is (mis)diagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

However, for a child to receive a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (DSM-IV) still requires that the child must meet the adult criteria for the disorder. In other words, there still are no separate criteria for diagnosing children, which makes it difficult to get your child diagnosed with the disorder.

If your child has certain behaviors, however, a red flag should be raised:

  • If they try to jump out of a moving car, for example
  • If they exhibit destructive rages which continue past 4 years old
  • If they talk of wanting to die or to kill themselves

Once your child is, in fact, diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder), you as the parent face a role in their treatment.

Your child should have a treatment team consisting of a doctor, psychiatrist, and therapist, as well as other medical professionals, and you will be called upon to work closely with them.

By having the whole family involved in the child's treatment, the frequency, severity, and duration of the child’s episodes can usually be reduced. The child’s ability to function successfully in the community, in school, and at home can usually be improved as well.

For your role to be the most successful, you need to be knowledgeable about the disorder. Learn all you can about it, first of all. Join support groups, and get together with other parents. Other resources are available online, such as: Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (CABF) at www.cabf.com, and www.bipolarcentral.com.

You may be able to prevent episodes in your child by being aware of their triggers and their symptoms, and by prompt and early intervention. By having such knowledge, and by effective treatment (medication and therapy), you can be an integral part in stabilizing their extreme mood swings and help to restore them to a normal mood.

Parents of children with Bipolar Disorder have discovered numerous techniques that the CABF refers to as therapeutic parenting, and these techniques have helped to calm their children when they are showing symptoms of an episode. These techniques can also help to prevent and even help to reduce the amount of relapses.

These techniques include:

  • practicing and teaching their child relaxation techniques
  • using firm restraint holds to contain rages
  • prioritizing battles and letting go of less important matters
  • reducing stress in the home, including learning and using good listening and communication skills
  • using music and sound, lighting, water, and massage to assist the child with waking, falling asleep, and relaxation
  • becoming an advocate for stress reduction and other accommodations at school
  • helping the child anticipate and avoid, or prepare for stressful situations by developing coping strategies beforehand
  • engaging the child's creativity through activities that express and channel their gifts and strengths
  • providing routine structure and a great deal of freedom within limits
  • removing objects from the home (or locking them in a safe place) that could be used to harm self or others during a rage, especially guns; keeping medications in a locked cabinet or box.