Therapists are always hearing complaints/requests from parents with children who have bipolar disorder to 'fix my child.' It’s understandable that it is difficult to raise such a child with their special needs; however, 'fixing' is not such an easy answer. Fortunately, there are some things that are the same, whether your child has bipolar disorder or not; and other answers that are attainable.

Children’s basic needs are one thing that has not changed over the years. They still have a basic need for food, clothing, and shelter. In addition, however, they also need to feel loved, to feel safe and secure, and to know that their parents are interested in them. Children will act in such a way as to make sure that they get their basic needs met.

Think of 'fixing' your child as using special 'tools' from a toolbox: Children need boundaries, rules, expectations and security. This is how your child will have their needs met. Many parents are very busy today; however, you don’t have to give up your job or your sleep to be a loving, effective parent.

Your child needs rules. Think about how unsafe you might feel if there were no rules to follow. The good news, however, is that you get to make the rules and your child gets to follow them. Your rules need to be clear and 'age-appropriate,' and most of all they need to be followed. Do not bend the rules; as this will give your child the wrong message. Your child needs to know that rules are to be followed and if they are not, there will be consequences (which are set by you). They need to know exactly what these consequences will be.

It is to be expected that your child will try to test the rules and will seem to always be testing you; however, this may be because they want to make sure that you are in charge.

As the parent, you should know that it is appropriate for you to make decisions about your child’s playtime, dinnertime, bedtime, etc. Your child needs to know that you are the boss, as this helps them to feel safe and secure. Unfortunately for you, because your child will recognize that they don’t have control over these decisions, they will often 'push your buttons' to feel control over something — in this case, you.

Don’t respond emotionally to your child’s negative behaviors. This would make your child think that they have control. If your child can make you scream and yell, then they have accomplished a lot – and then what you are facing is a power struggle. If you can control your responses, not letting them even get a rise out of you (as difficult as this might be), their behavior will usually just fade away. Remember: YOU are the boss and you can prove this by maintaining your control.

Let’s talk about boundaries – this refers to how much you are willing to tolerate. This is when clear-cut discipline and punishment come into play. Some people might call this 'structure;' whatever you call it, it is a must for every household.

These are things like: Is your child allowed to curse in your home? Does your child have a curfew? How long can a child whine before they get a timeout? Again, your child needs to know about these boundaries to feel safe and secure, and to remember that you are in charge.

A teenager may not want a curfew, but having one will let them know that you care. Do you ask your teenager where they are going and who will be with them? You may want them to feel independent, but not asking can confuse your child into thinking that you are not interested. What if they come home after curfew? Will they get punished? Again, let your teenager know that you care. Pay attention to what they are doing. Stick to your set boundaries. Reinforce discipline and punishment for breaking rules.

The same holds true for your little ones: How many times is your toddler allowed to say 'no' to a bath before getting a timeout? Even your little ones will respond to consistent boundaries.

This leads to the issue of expectations. Let your child know exactly what you expect from them, and be realistic. If you want your child to do chores, set up a chore chart so they know what nights to take out the garbage and what nights to clean up the table. A lot of parents don’t like the idea of putting a chart on the fridge, but it does help to establish a routine and give structure. Does your child get an allowance? Do they earn it or is the cash simply given? Some families turn the allowance into an incentive.

Children need to know what to expect, as well as what will happen next. This becomes a bigger issue than just doing chores – your child will feel safe and secure when they can anticipate what will happen next. A house that has no rules, expectations or boundaries will confuse your child and make them anxious. Children will often act out in an effort to find out what the rules are, what the boundaries are and what you expect of them, acting out in ways to seek out the structure that they secretly desire.

Did you catch that word, secret? Most children will try to keep it a secret that they want order and rules in their lives, but don’t let them fool you. Many times, parents don’t realize why their child is misbehaving. It’s not because they are a bad parent or because they have failed their child. It can actually be attributed to their child’s well-kept secret of needing a stable environment.

Parents should take a firm yet fair approach. Unfortunately, children will always be testing their parents; that’s what they do best. But you need to understand that they do it for a good reason. They want to make sure that you love them. By maintaining structure in your home, you can provide them with a sense of security, as well as helping to maintain your sanity.