Disciplining Your Bipolar Child

The importance of teaching your bipolar child to be responsible for his/her illness and managing the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder.

Discipline vs. Punishment

Discipline for bipolar children, this is a dilemma that all parents have to face in raising kids. The answer lies in the details.

Think *responsibility* instead of *fault*.

Your child is not at fault for having bipolar disorder, nor for having symptoms. No one would ever say he was at fault for vomiting if he had the stomach flu, so be careful not to "blame" your child for bipolar disorder rages or for being depressed.

However, each of us is responsible for our actions. As an adult, if you get the flu, although you are not at fault, you still have to clean up any mess that you may make. You are responsible for your messes, whatever the cause. The point being: It's important to teach your child with bipolar disorder that they are "responsible" for their illness. Being "responsible" includes not only careful behavior even when having symptoms, it includes taking care of things when they blow it, and it includes getting adequate rest, eating right, and taking their bipolar medications.

Instead of *punishment* think *discipline* or *training*

Punishment is punitive, it means the child is "paying" for his/her mistakes, and that's not really fair if the cause of the behavior was an illness. Bipolar kids already pay too high of a cost in lost friendships, lost time, lost joy. Discipline, in this instance, should really entail training - focused teaching - better responses for the next time the problem situation comes around.

Keep in mind, that no child (or adult for that matter) is going to be able to understand, process, and learn from discipline in the middle of a bipolar rage. If you wait until after the episode to talk about the problem, discuss alternatives, discuss restitution, then they can actually process what you are saying, rather than get into a huge confrontation that is fruitless. Sometimes if the child is very unstable, even between rages, they are not able to process the discipline. Sometimes you have to wait for the medications to kick in, and that can be months, but eventually, that time will come and you can begin to "discipline" your child so he/she can handle it out there in the adult world.

(Ross Green has a wonderful approach in the book Explosive Child because it gives a concrete way for a parent to put these ideas into practice. It's important to remember to use "B" basket, as well as "A" and "C" though... or else all you are doing is ignoring the bad behavior, and that does not equip the child for his/her future.)

Getting Others To "Get It"

It's hard to get the schools and others to understand that the process of being responsible for their own behavior is harder for children with bipolar disorder than for many others, and that often in has to be broken down into smaller chunks so it is more manageable for them. It's a challenge, as a parent, to keep going and not grow weary, when progress in measured in millimeters and there are still kilometers yet to go.

For kids who are more stable, the book Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay can be very helpful in teaching them to function in the world, and also to help reduce the power struggles that can so easily develop with our kids.

Low Expressed Emotion is another important key in helping bipolar kids. If the illness is not allowed to consume their lives and conflicts do not become overly emotional, parents provide a helping hand to help their child with bipolar disorder climb back into "normal" life.


APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 31). Disciplining Your Bipolar Child, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Last Updated: August 19, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info