10 Things Your Child Needs To Know About Bipolar Disorder

When a family member undergoes diagnosis for bipolar disorder, it is not uncommon to find other family members keeping it a secret from the children. The truth is that sooner or later, the child will find out and will develop questions regarding the issue.

With this in mind, it is important to talk to your child about the condition and clear any issues that they may have regarding bipolar disorder. Here are ten things that your child/children need to know about bipolar disorder.

1. Explain What Bipolar Disorder Is

Your conversation must start with a simple but comprehensive explanation of what bipolar disorder is and how it works. Let your child know that bipolar disorder is a condition of the brain that affects how one thinks, acts and even feels.

Make sure that children understand that when one has bipolar, he/she not only thinks differently but also acts and feels differently.

Secondly, it is also important for the child to understand that two phases characterize bipolar disorder; depression (lows) and mania (highs).

It is also important for the child to know that there are times when individuals with bipolar disorder feel healthy/ like their usual self. Most importantly, let the child understand that having bipolar disorder is not a sign of weakness.


2. Explain How Bipolar Disorder Works

By now, the children already know that bipolar disorder has the effect of causing people to act and behave differently. Now it is essential to make it clear to the children that bipolar disorder causes mood changes in an individual. Also, explain to them that these mood changes follow a cycle.

3. Explain What The Depression Phase Is

The children may want to know what depression is and how it shows itself. The best way to make them understand this is by giving them examples of how individuals, going through the depression phase act or feel.

The following symptoms may help you explain and describe the depression stage.

  • An overwhelming feeling of sadness that may cause them to cry a lot.
  • Feelings of anger, impatience, and irritability.
  • Lack of interest in activities such as playing, talking with other family members or even visiting/traveling to other places.
  • Feelings of exhaustion.
  • Low concentration levels
  • They may worry more and may even have negative thoughts about life and themselves.

4. Explain What The Mania Phase Is

After explaining what the depression phase entails, it is important also to explain what the mania phase is and the symptoms that characterize it.

A simple place to start is by explaining that the mania phase makes one feel super powerful, super energetic and super excited. You may also refer to the following symptoms in your explanation;

  • One might seem distracted
  • One may talk fast and seem to make decisions at a faster rate than normal.
  • One may also experience increased feelings of impatience and anger.
  • Lack of sleep and a subsequent need to stay awake for longer times.
  • Some parents may also find themselves spending more money or even dressing differently.

5. Explain How Bipolar Disorder Will Affect The Child And The Rest Of The Family

It is likely that the child will want to know how bipolar disorder will affect him/her or the even how it will affect the rest of the family.

It is important to let the child know that it is indeed difficult to live with a parent who has bipolar disorder.

Point out to the child that the parent with bipolar disorder may sometimes do things that may make the child get scared, sad, confused or even angry.

However, you must also clarify to the children that there are times when living with a parent with bipolar disorder is normal.

6. Explain What Causes Bipolar And How It Starts

Some children may think that they are the ones who caused the bipolar disorder. With this in mind, one must start by letting the child know that they are not the cause. Once done with that hurdle, the next thing is to explain that chemical imbalances cause bipolar disorder in the brain.

It is also possible for one to inherit bipolar disorder from the parents although the chances of this happening are minimal. 9 out of 10 children of a parent with bipolar disorder do not inherit it.


7. Can It Be Fixed And What Treatments Are Available?

It is quite normal for children to want to know whether a particular disease/condition can be fixed.

In this case, start by letting the child know that there is no cure for bipolar disorder. However, it is possible to keep it under control by undertaking special treatment.

Possible treatments for people diagnosed with bipolar disorder may include different medicines and various types of therapy including talk therapy and family therapy.

It is vital to let the child know that they can make the parent with bipolar disorder feel better simply by understanding them and accepting them as they are.

8. Will I Get Bipolar Too?

First and foremost, help the child understand that bipolar is not like flu and it is not contagious. This means that it is safe for the child to spend time with the parent with bipolar disorder.

Also, make it clear that it is important for the child to avoid stress by talking to others about their feelings. This will help the child lead a happier and healthier life.

9. Help The Child Come Up With An Action Plan

Some children may not know what to do when the parent with bipolar disorder goes through the mood swings. In this case, it is important to help them come up with an action plan.

For example, you may write down the Kids Help Phone number for the child as well as other emergency numbers such as 911 or a close family member’s number.

It is also advisable for the child to develop a check-list signaling when the parent is okay and when they are undergoing mood swings.

10. The Question Of Death

This is one of the most sensitive and most unnerving questions a child can have regarding bipolar disorder or any other illness for that matter.

Start by acknowledging that sometimes individuals with bipolar disorder may experience suicidal feelings or the need to harm themselves.

However, you also need to clarify to the child that bipolar disorder in itself does not cause death.