Anger management in children with bipolar disorder

Why is my child so angry?

1. Bipolar children feel anger more intensely then the rest of us.

Anger management in children with bipolar disorder is difficult and complicated for many reasons.  Almost all of us have difficulty with anger, and understanding how to best manage and express it. Bipolar children and adolescents feel anger very intensely. Anger management in children with bipolar disorder is complicated by the fact that they have not yet developed the skills to handle such strong emotions, and anger is more overwhelming for them then for the rest of us. 

Chemistry and Biology. It’s not Behavioral!

2. They arent doing it on purpose, don't treat them as if they are.

If you are a parent of a child with bipolar disorder and anger is a problem in your home this page will be helpful for you. It is important to understand that the chemistry of your child’s body and brain is driving your child’s bipolar disorder and anger . That is why they act aggressive and angry, irritable or hyper. If you had a child who had diabetes, you would not lecture your child about their blood sugar level, or punish them because of this. You would give them medications and the foods they need to manage it. Bipolar disorder is an illness.

Illnessess  do not heal in response  to punishment, yelling, shaming, or time out. This is not a way to help with anger management in children with bipolar disorder.

This is not to say that there is absolutely nothing you can do to manage your child’s aggression, bipolar and anger. You can learn about specific guidelines to help your child with anger at different stages of their illness. There should be consequences for your child’s behavior when they are aggressive or angry to others. However, it is not realistic to  punish the bipolar out of your child. 

So what do you do? You’re a parent of a child with bipolar disorder and anger, and it is getting in the way of how your family functions. The family is in constant crisis, everyone is yelling and screaming, the siblings of your bipolar child seem disturbed and effected by this and you don’t know what the long term effects on them are going to be. You feel like a failure, and everyone on the outside thinks this has something to do with your parenting skills.

I think you need to understand more about the relationship between bipolar disorder and anger. Let’s look at how anger management in children who are healthy develops.

The non bipolar development of emotional regulation and anger management in children

3. Understand how children normally develop emotional regulation skills.

Anger management in children develops through the gradual exposure to situations that are uncomfortable or unpleasant. This begins when an infant experiences discomfort and is first soothed by his mother.  A hungry child cries, experiences frustration and unhappiness and his mother picks him up, coos to him, rocks him and feeds him. He is then emotionally regulated, he begins to learn that he can be soothed when he is in distress. This is the beginning of how we learn to regulate our emotions on our own. Each progressive experience helps us to refine those skills. Usually the second experience for a child of this kind of frustration comes when mom tells them no at this point they are usually crawling. 

Imagine this scenario. A two year old is crawling to the electrical outlet and the mother is too far to catch them quickly. She yells no, loudly.  The child is shocked and feels intense shame, anger, and frustration, but the mother quickly scoops him up to help ease those strong emotions.

As a child gets older, they have these small experiences where they feel intense emotions and are required and expected to handle them. They may or may not meet the expectation, but they do learn new skills. This process of learning anger management skills continues to occur into adulthood.

The Bipolar Child and Development of Emotional Regulation

4. How do things go wrong for a child with a mood disorder?

Now imagine this scenario. A child is born with a brain chemistry that makes them almost immediately uncomfortable. When his mother thinks he’s hungry, and picks him up he is not soothed. He feels scared and uncomfortable and out of control. Imagine this same child at two, crawling towards the electrical outlet. He constantly feels irritable, he has sensory integration issues he can’t sleep at night, and rarely feels a sense of safety. His mother yells no, and his body is flooded with chemicals that cause him to fight, become aggressive and scream. He feels totally out of control, and never feels calmed or soothed. Is this a child you put in time out, spank, or punish?

This is an extreme example of a bipolar child and the relationship between bipolar disorder and anger, because not every child experiences and onset of the illness at infancy. However, it is an example of how the brain chemistry interacts with the environment to produce a child who has difficulty regulating his anger. Not only is he at the disadvantage of biologically being prone to anger, but his illness has prevented him from ever learning the basic skills to regulate his anger.

Explore more about anger and a day in the life of a bipolar child here.

What’s the solution?

Medication is the first solution. When a child is stable, the chemical in the brain are restored to a more normal level. This means that they are less likely to be flooded with chemical that cause the anger. When a child is stable, it also allows them to go back and learn the skills they did not learn when they were sick.

Parenting techniques that consider the child's level of functioning and what they can and cannot do are also important when dealing with anger management in children.

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Medical information obtained from our website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.